Hamparian: On the Field, or in the Stands?

I wanted to share with you a thought about a tendency I’ve seen in corners of the Armenian American community and to invite you to share your comments.

There is, you may have noticed, resistance among some Armenian Americans to organizing with others toward shared goals. This likely exists for a variety of reasons, some cultural, others personal. It could be that this tendency has roots in our long experience as subjects of foreign rule, not as citizens free to shape our own destinies.

This resistance takes on its most virulent form in the habit of some folks—particularly in online settings—to drive discussions down to the level of the lowest common denominator, which is a particularly fatalist brand of world-weary cynicism.

These are typically bright folks. People who have the intellectual capacity to grasp complex realities. They could, if they wanted, very likely get involved themselves by, in Teddy Roosevelt’s words, entering the arena: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

But, for whatever reason, they lack the will, vision, or energy. Perhaps they don’t have faith that they can make any impact. So, rather than actually trying to contribute something, they end up fostering an atmosphere of hopelessness, essentially trying to drag everyone down to their level of fatalism.

To be fair, it is rather easy and even fun at times to be cynical. To call everyone a crook, a liar, or a fool. To sit in the stands and describe the weaknesses of the players on the field. It also serves as a sort of permission slip to sit on the sidelines and complain, rather than summoning the courage to go to the front lines (where everyone takes their share of punches).

This habit is likely emotionally and I imagine even intellectually satisfying at some level, for what could be more comforting than to sit around pointing out the flaws of others? It’s true, of course, that there are meaningful grounds for criticism in our civic life—both pointed and constructive—for there is, as Roosevelt noted, no effort without error and shortcoming. We all benefit from the careful scrutiny of all the stakeholders in our common cause, but, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that those who so readily and callously sow bitterness and cynicism hinder our ability to do precisely that which we must if we are to meet the challenges of our generation: To work together as a team toward shared aims.

The next time someone you know starts spreading hopelessness, don’t just sit there. Say something (or just forward them this note).


Aram Hamparian

Aram Hamparian is the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

1 Comment

  1. It needed to be said. We are often our own worst enemy… I often get the sense that our defeatist and divisive attitude breeds a self-fulfilling reality. We would all do well to remember this the next time we are tempted to take solace from our position in the stands.

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