Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Social Chameleon

I'm a social chameleon. This might come as a surprise, if not a shock, to people who know me, because I'm usually very reserved. But, if you pay extremely close attention to my behavior, you'll notice that I often adopt the speech and mannerisms of the people I'm around almost immediately.

I'll catch myself mimicking someone's laugh or tic or manner of speech, and I'll scold myself mentally, because it disturbs my sense of identity. If I'll abandon my personality at the drop of a hat, just because I'm with strangers, then what kind of person am I? What do I stand for? Will I stand for what I believe in or just go along with the crowd?

It worries me. This trait has always been in tension with my sense of justice and a certain contrarian streak. I know I'm just trying to get people to like me. Luckily, it's been an abject failure. People don't wanna hang out with someone who has no opinions of his own. If you change based on which way the wind's blowing, then you'll be left with nothing, no friends or personality or soul of your own.

Woody Allen addressed this character trait in Zelig. The title character transforms physically as well as socially to blend in with whatever group he happens to be in.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote about Shakespeare talking to God at the end of his life. Shakespeare says, "I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself." God says, "Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself are many and no one."

This may be an actorly habit. I also chalk it up to my eclectic tastes, but I suppose we all have to run in different circles depending on the occasion. It's not easy being a leftist intellectual who's also a sports fan with an oft-juvenile sense of humor.

But isn't that the Human Condition? I'm often amazed and bewildered by the diversity of my interests, but it never seems to impress anyone else as much as it impresses me. And, then again, why should it? Those who dedicate themselves to one pursuit alone are the true objects of fascination. The natural state of our fancy is multicolored, not monochromatic.

I'm glad to say that I don't copy other people's quirks nearly as much as I used to. This may be a result of growing confidence, maturity or just getting old and inflexible.

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