The Common Good

Election 2012: Concrete, Chameleons, and Clay

One of the common ditches that political candidates fall into is the temptation of a “concrete” character. 

Among other things, one who is concrete holds to views that are supposedly unchanging and non-negotiable, and thus they possess an inability to compromise with those who may have diverse perspectives. A concrete character is often grounded in the belief that she/he “knows” who she/he is, and because of these unbreakable principles will not waver in her/his understanding regardless of the setting and potential consequences. 

In other words, a person with a concrete character is immovable, solid, and resolute, and as a result, nearly impossible to bend or twist. While there is much to be admired in those who display the concrete character, there is also much to be criticized. 

For example, while concrete may be strong and resolute, it is also fixed in time, stiff, and inflexible, and is thus unable to change regardless of conditions, societal advances, and circumstances. Thus, concrete — sooner or later — will crack. 

As the current generation experiences cultural and technological change at a rate far greater than any era before it, those who refuse to be changed by unfolding knowledge and wisdom allow life to pass by while remaining trapped in one place. Therefore, while the concrete character may appear to be one of strength, it is ultimately weak, vulnerable, and unsustainable.   

In contrast to the concrete character is the opposite ditch, which is the “chameleon” character that changes colors based upon its particular setting.

In literal terms, a chameleon is adaptable, flexible, and because of its ability to assimilate quickly, it can survive situations that many larger and stronger beings cannot. In metaphorical terms, a chameleon character is one that can alter quickly and dramatically based upon its conditions and observations. As a result, such a person is nearly impossible to back into a corner, for she/he will likely find a way to change color and slide her/himself free. 

In other words, it is difficult to discern where the chameleon character stands on particular issues, as she/he rarely seems to be in one ideological location for too long.  

While there is a great deal to be affirmed surrounding those who exhibit the chameleon character, there is also a great deal to be rebuked, as those who continually change colors are — in many ways — unreliable and unable to face opposition. 

The (literal) chameleon changes color primarily for survival, yet humans who display a chameleon character often do so in order to protect status and popularity, thus are often untrustworthy in times of conflict. In the context of ongoing political campaigns, the chameleon characters are on full display in an unfortunately large number of candidates, thus these notions require a great deal of reflection.   

In order to move past the two opposing ditches of concrete and chameleon character, one is drawn toward Isaiah 64:8, which reads:  

Yet you, LORD, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” 

While a full biblical exegesis is not intended here, what is significant is the profound image of clay, for it can be firm when needed, but it can also be flexible, and thus can be shaped when necessary. 

In other words, a clay character can be both firm and flexible, and in light of the biblical image, it moves based upon the ways in which God seeks for it to be.

In contrast to the immovable and static nature of concrete and the inconsistent and wavering form of chameleons, humankind as a clay character and God as the potter is a refreshing concept in our day and age. As various political elections loom on the horizon, my hope is that we refuse to accept leaders who exhibit concrete or chameleon characters. 

We cannot support representatives who are unable to evolve and compromise based upon changing circumstances, yet we also must reject those who lack integrity and only adapt in order to gain voter support and personal influence. 

While we often witness chameleon character during the period of political campaigns, all too often we see concrete character by the same people once they are placed into office.

With political campaigning ramping up to its zenith (or nadir, depending upon your point of view) in the weeks and months ahead, the time is upon us to demand both integrity and flexibility from our elected officials — and ourselves — in order to pursue life in its fullness, both locally and globally, for all of God’s creation. 

Brian E. Konkol is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and PhD candidate in Theology & Development with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa).

Cameleon image by Andrew Buckin/Shutterstock.

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