Standing Out: Peacocks and Chameleons

Just before my daughter left for college, she and I had one of those talks. An “I-only-have-today-to-ask-you-this” talk. This one was about the challenge of making her own way in an all-new environment among all-new people.

“How do you think you will decide what to do, when you’re trying to make new friends  but you’re not sure you want to go the direction they are going?” I asked her.

No hesitation. She replied, “I figure I can either be a chameleon or a peacock. I’ve spent my whole life developing peacock powers. So that’s how I plan to keep acting.”

How would you and I answer that question?

Why fit in like a chameleon when you were made to stand out like a peacock?

Be True to You

On one level, this question addresses embracing your uniqueness.

Peacocks in this context believe in their intrinsic value. They continue being themselves, because they know they have worth. Chameleons, lacking self-worth, would dress, speak, and act like the ones they hope will grant them approval. (A rather fickle substitute for self-worth.)

Solitary man stands before the galaxy, with e.e.cummings quote: It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are.

True self-worth is rooted in our Creator. It is not measured by accomplishments or popular opinion. We were made in God’s own image. And even though our sin ruined that image in us, we can be re-born—re-created—through accepting by faith the forgiveness Jesus bought for us with His death.

Christians like me, re-created and new, may not fit in with the rest of the crowd, but that’s because we each have a unique purpose in God’s kingdom.  When we’re tempted to doubt our value, we only need to stand at the foot of the cross to remember how valuable God believes we are.

Be Convinced

On another level, this peacock-vs-chameleon question gets at the issue of compromising deeply-held values. Will you trade your integrity for a shot at popularity? Will you back down from a stand that might put you in somebody’s line of fire?

In this sense, being a peacock means living by what you believe no matter the cost; being a chameleon means compromising those beliefs to stay safe.

Standing out takes courage. It takes being fully convinced that you are right.

Compromising seems easier. But what does it do to a person—all that compromising?

It sets us slipping, imperceptibly at first, down a gentle slope into darkness. As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters,

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Habitually compromising our values pulls up one signpost after another, signposts which used to mark the narrow uphill road we once followed. Soon we cannot remember where we used to be headed. We can no longer trust our inner compass.

Voices around us may celebrate a world without absolutes. But a Christian anchored to truth will plow a steady course through the waves of this uncertain life, through the whims and caprices of society, and even through his own doubts. His inner compass needle will wobble ever closer to true north, because it is drawn to God.

Abandoned compass on sand: compromise erodes our confidence in our inner compass.

Choose Your Powers

Chameleons have been getting a bad rap here. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve learned, those little lizards don’t change just to match their surroundings. They change their skin color to suit the purpose uppermost in their little minds at the moment. (That may be mating, camouflaging to catch prey, or even announcing they’re expecting little chameleons.)

The downside of that skin-shifting for people is living in a constant state of pretense.

The upside, however, is that human beings can actually change for the better and stay that way.

So while I’ve praised the peacock powers—living life boldly, displaying who you are and what you believe—I have to say there are times a person should develop chameleon powers.

If we want to grow, we must surround ourselves with people who will challenge and encourage us to change in a direction we need to go.

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise…” says the first half of Proverbs 13:20.

Of course, the second half of the verse says, “…but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”

Sounds like each of us has a little chameleon baked right into our makeup. And we can use those chameleon powers to become either better people or worse.

Those people whom we allow into our hearts, those to whom we give the power to influence us, will shape us into their image. What image are your closest friends conforming themselves to? Christ’s? Or an image dictated by the world?

The Best of Both Animals

This week, what would make you a better peacock?

  • In what way can you stand out, offering your unique gift to the world?
  • How can you stand up for what you believe in?

Yet don’t neglect your chameleon powers. Find companions who bring out your best colors—those most like the One who made you.

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