The Chameleon Complex—Chapter 5 Authentic

red white and green chameleon

In my family, hyperbole was a given and not to be judged harshly or taken more seriously than intended. It was entertainment. Somebody had to play the straight man and somebody had to play the clown. People tend to prefer to pick their own role, and so it may not have endeared them to be involuntarily foisted into the straight-man role. See, I preferred to play the clown. Jerry Lewis. Jonathan Winters. Tommy Smothers. Some people implied that my credibility was challenged; they minimized me, saying, “Oh, is that another Tays tale?” Most people let the exaggerations wash over them with a grin. I viewed it as good humor because it made the routine and unpleasant truths about life more palatable.

I’ve lost much of my family of origin’s “aptitude,” which I use as a euphemism for passing off embellishments as accurate. When I became a teacher and then a psychologist, I considered my credibility because it began to matter more to me than when I was rebellious. For the record, when I was young, I didn’t see my chameleonism as lying. A part of me believed that perfection—as preached by my church and modeled to me by more opaque people surrounding me—was indeed attainable. All was well in the fantasized spiritual world, so why not in the mirrored material world? I just had to figure out how to make the two worlds congruent.

Another part of me just wanted to be Happy Jack and enliven things a bit. Were comedians liars? I just wanted to inject a bit of levity, and there was something good and truthful about that. Comedic drama often sprang from tortured souls and hadn’t I been squalling from the outset? I’ve always respected the cleverness of comic improvisation and comedy roasts. Still, jokes often have butts, and too often, I got laughs at the expense of others. Over the years, that turned off some people. So a word of warning; there may be blowback; blowback that I should’ve anticipated. But I was still quite young, and at the time, I just saw it as their confusion between my actions and who I really was. I didn’t realize that they were believing what I showed them.

So, I was offended a lot that my jokes and I were misunderstood. I was offended at the reactions by others.

These days, I’m as honest as I can be without hurting people. I’m not a phony just because I’m civil with people who are not a good fit for me. I’m not a fake when I’m less than blunt about someone’s religion or politics or fail to comment on his or her breath. I filter things better than I did when I was younger. I just smile and take a step back. They’re only human, marvelous and flawed, as I am, as all of us are. When I’m not opinionated, that doesn’t make me hypocritical regarding my own beliefs. When I strive for gentlemanly behavior, I’m not disloyal to my youthful passions; they remain vibrant within me but don’t control me as they once did. I’m not a chameleon while in my role as a psychotherapist, even though I started out as a rube but then observed life and learned to think and behave professionally. It’s true that today I pay for a covered parking space, and my office has a view of the building’s atrium with a feng shui feature inside. The staff calls me “Doctor” and worries about imposing on my time. I have a haircut that shows my ears; my sideburns have gone salt-and-pepper, and I shave every morning, even though I’d rather be scruffy as I was back when I sneered at authority instead of being an authority figure. I wear black shoes and slacks and a collared shirt with buttons. I don’t use foul language when describing people who misbehave or situations that frustrate me. Does this make me inauthentic—a chameleon—considering that there are numerous manifestations clamoring inside me to get out? No. Of course, I’m impression managing, except this is not a “color” but a “role” I take on. The trappings of “Doctor” are more helpful to my clients than any other stance I could take. My clients aren’t in my office for entertainment but for help. Although I’m not as enamored of the counterculture as I used to be, there’s still an attraction, and I still encourage rebellion, albeit typically against the old, dysfunctional programming we received as kids and against those who’d place us into boxes, sit on those boxes, and then tell us it’s for our own good.

When I return home from my office, I become a husband, father, and friend. I try to keep my home up so as not to distress my neighbors and thus minimize their irritated glares as they pass in their Lexus’ and BMWs. I wave as my garage door lowers with the mere touch of a button the way they do these days (1965 being a long time ago now), plug in my electric car, and go inside to shed my professional clothes for my old track sweats that have Nacho Dorito stains and frayed sleeves. I’m outwardly someone quite different from the professional who, hours earlier, helped others become more authentic. I do not wish to be a hypocrite, so I’m always me, and that’s what I’ll share, to varying degrees, depending on how comfortable I am with the person I’m with, how safe they are for me to open up to, to be vulnerable. There’s wiggle room between being too suggestible and too rigid in the roles we take on. The trick is to be authentic in every role, which is difficult to do if you don’t know who you are underneath your material manifestation and the role you play. I think we’re all more alike than not. Like so many of us, I’m just some guy trying to be better than what was originally my implied destiny.

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