I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! [1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (MSG)]
Even though they have their own unique song, northern mockingbirds usually incorporate the songs of other birds into theirs. With their ability to sound like jays, thrashers, hawks, orioles, and robins (along with car alarms and frogs), rather than sounding like themselves, these masters of mimicry can sound like what they’ve heard.
While we often see people imitating the monkeys at a zoo, we’re as likely to see the primates imitating us! Along with being a way to learn, researchers have found this mimicry is a way of interacting and communicating with one another. The old phrase, “monkey see, monkey do!” actually holds true.
Even though it is unintentionally and unconsciously done, like mockingbirds and monkeys, we tend to mimic the voices, mannerisms, and gestures of the people we’re with because of something often called the “chameleon effect.” We find ourselves returning facial expressions like smiles and yawning, as well as accents, gestures, and tone or pitch of voice. Researchers say that such mimicry builds rapport and empathy and can have an impact on our social success.
In Romans 1, Paul wrote of his own willingness to emulate certain behaviors as a way of building rapport with the people he wanted to bring to Christ. Even though he knew Jesus had freed him from Judaism’s 613 laws, Paul abided by them when with Jews. When with Gentiles, however, he would disregard those same laws. Although he was willing to adapt his communication to the culture of his audience, he never changed the message of the gospel or compromised his principles.
Social success or not, not every behavior should be copied and yet we often find ourselves in situations where not joining in becomes problematic. To fit in with our classmates, neighbors, co-workers, small group, or friends, we may find ourselves mirroring behavior that shouldn’t be mimicked such as griping, gossip, coarse language, criticism, disparagement, rudeness, or complaint. Without realizing it, like the mockingbird, we start copying the voices around us.
There’s a fine line between finding common ground and losing our way. If we’re not careful, like the mockingbird, we may begin to sound more like what we’ve been hearing than who we actually are and, like the monkey, begin to act like those around us rather than Jesus. While it’s often easier to conform to the world around us than to remain in the world while staying true to our faith, our words and actions should never be compromised. If Jesus wouldn’t do or say it, neither should we!
At the end of the day, Paul knew he’d been true to Jesus whether or not he’d eaten dairy and meat at the same meal, had fringes on his robe, or wore phylacteries on his forehead and arms. At the end of the day, no matter what songs he’s sung, the mockingbird knows he’s still a mockingbird. At the end of the day, we need to be able to say that we are Christians who have sung our song in a way that honors God and reflects our faith.