Just what is my Theory of Chameleon-ism? I'm glad you asked. It's not very complex and you may find that you have been a chameleon at various times in your own life.
The theory can be illustrated probably easier than it can be explained.
- When I am among geeks, I begin talking, gesturing, even thinking, like a geek.
- When I am among intellectuals, I begin talking, gesturing, thinking, as an intellectual.
- When I am among rednecks, I tend to drawl and spit.
In other words, I mimic the behavior and mannerisms of those I am interacting with. I also call this the "Salesman's Trait" because I first noticed it in my father. The summer I turned 11, my father took me on one of his monthly sales trips around Florida. Until that trip, my entire concept of Florida was a smallish flat area bordered on one side (the east) by a large body of salty water (often full of jellyfish), garish motels, and tourists in bizarre clothes. I was amazed to learn about cattle ranches, dairy farms, hilly areas, crackers (not the saltines, the people), large lakes and smallish rivers, small towns, and other largish cities. I also learned this:
My father, a mostly silent and stern man, would pull up in front of a large store and we would go in. As we passed through the door, his seemingly eternal frown would disappear and a smile would appear. Cheerfulness would fill his face and he would wave and greet people as if they were old friends he had not seen nearly often enough. He would exchange pleasantries, laugh at lame jokes, nod sagely at tales of woe, and be something much more human than the Dad I had known all my short life.
Immediately upon exiting said store, my father having taken an order larger than the owner had originally intended to place, the look on my father's face returned to the more familiar glumness.
It impressed me. I began to notice this change in others and in myself. How I behaved around my youthful peers was different than how I behaved around my siblings. And there were differences in my behavior (and theirs) depending upon which peers were around and where we were. I began to realize that personalities were much more fluid than I had thought.
Another thing I noticed I do is take on accents. Now, I was born on Long Island in New York. And there is a distinct accent that is found there. I didn't realize it when I lived there. I thought everyone sounded pretty much the same around me and people from other places sounded "funny" when they spoke. Until I had been living in south Florida for a year and we were visited by friends from "up north". They talked "funny". Oddly enough, they had the same impression of me. But, while they were there, I began to revert to the same speech mannerisms they used while I was in their company. But only in their company. When I was with my local friends, I fell into those speech mannerisms easily and naturally.
Realizing this blending in was happening without my making any effort to do so, I began to think of it as a chameleon quality. Thus, my resulting (and now much more refined and complex than presented here) Theory of Chameleon-ism.