In The Stands, Or On The Field?


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 basic even 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’s 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 meaingful 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).

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  1. Tsoghig said:

    Very inspiring note. I too am tired of people who sit on the sidelines and criticize those who actually work. Everyone has the power in their own hands to make a difference, and even donating is a form of activism. If you have nothing nice to say and you don’t donate to the Armenian organizations making a difference (ANCA, AYF), then you have no right to say anything critical of the people who have given their lives to the cause.

  2. Siran said:

    The problem isn’t, as the author states, about armchair criticizers, or cynical Armenians. It’s about those of us who disagree with the plan of action and are silenced and/or marginalized because of it !

  3. Mike said:

    If what this article talks about is labeling everyone who doesn’t agree “a traitor” or ”an idiot”,
    I totally agree with it.
    But if the real idea behind this is simply to dismiss as “irrelevant” everyone who is critical of the actions of Diaspora Armenian organizations, then it’s unacceptable.
    Apparently, the strategy that Armenian organizations have been pursuing for years leads nowhere, and it needs
    serious reconsideration.

  4. Janine Shamshoian said:

    For the very first time in recent history, we have a president who has fully acknowedged that he believes the Arnenian Genocide was genocide. We have a discussion in public forums and major newspapers that fully accepts that this was genocide, but that Turkey has a problem with us declaring it to be so. I have lived my whole life hearing this wasn’t really genocide, and now the discussion has completely shifted. We have initiatives for including the Armenian genocide in public schools as part of genocide awareness.

    “Getting us nowhere” is complete nonsense.

    Whatever else Pres. Obama did or failed to do, he announced to the world this number of 1.5 million. In terms of what we have struggled to achieve for many decades, that alone is RADICAL achievement. From that number to the word “genocide” is an obvious step. It is revolutionary that he has announced that number and I guarantee that alone is having a huge impact within Turkey more than anywhere else.

    When, this year, I read commentary from those like Christopher Hitchens and other major figures in American Journalism and Opinion that this must and should be recognized, that a campaign promise is important regardless of foreign political pressure, I know a revolution has happened compared to what we have experienced in my entire lifetime of seeking recognition.

    We should focus on the POSITIVE and GO FORWARD.

  5. Bryan Haserjian said:

    I have been reading and listening. I share the causes of seeing the Armenian Genocide recognized. Having been born here in the United States, full blooded Armenian– but not brought up fullly in the Armenian culture.
    I fully am and feel American and I know that I am Armenian– Perhaps there are degrees. Having been born and brought up here– I am American. However I wish to see our people (Armenians scattered throughout the world) do well and prosper as they do and peacefully work toward recognition of the true History. We have been disappointed from our Congress and President regarding the recognition of the Armenian massacres during 1918-1923. So let us press on as Americans (of Armenian descent) to argue for justice and truth and go on with our lives as citizens of whatever country we reside.

  6. Peter M. Petrossian said:

    I was truly inspired by Aram Hamparian’s article. As he states, our deep-rooted differences originated from Armenians having been subjects of foreign rules. Any of our ideological differences should take second-seat to our main cause. Only through unity, commitment and involvement we could achieve our shared goals. We should act now. The time is not on our side.