BY ARMEN MARTIN
Presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan once said–"Cynicism is not realistic and tough. It’s unrealistic and kind of cowardly because it means you don’t have to try." I am reminded of Noonan’s quote each time I run into someone who does nothing but find faults with altruistic Armenian endeavors whether they be charitable–political or cultural. These pseudo-cynics–as I call them–are distinguished from those with a healthy dose of cynicism in that they find fault with everything–therefore making action to correct what’s wrong impossible–because even the solution is fatally flawed in their eyes.
The latest example of this brand of pseudo-cynicism is a recent e-mail response to the ANC-PN’s announcement of its Annual Christmas Mixer on Sunday–December 28 at 7:30 PM at SideBar in Glendale (admission is $20 and all of the proceeds will be donated to the Armenian Relief Society for one of their children’s programs). The e-mail response to the announcement read "I am not thrilled about paying $20 which will NEVER EVER (emphasis in original e-mail) make it to any needy child in Armenia–but will wind up somewhere else–in the pocket of someone else. If you can guarantee that these funds make a difference for someone–then I’ll pay. I’d rather pick up the phone book–pick a random name–put some money in an envelope and mail it over to Armenia."
The person sending the e-mail above–let’s call him Tomas–brings up a very valid point. Regrettably there is waste–and even theft–in some Armenian charitable organizations (perhaps even in ARS programs). Most Armenia’s are acutely aware of this fact because they have undoubtedly heard anecdotal evidence of the corruption in Armenia. That being said–while all of the money that is donated won’t go to needy children (even if there is no waste or theft–there is some legitimate overhead in running a charity)–Tomas is dead wrong when he states that none of the money will get to needy children.
In Tomas’s doubt-filled world–the ARS orphanages which have been built in Armenia don’t exist–the school building program which the ARS recently launched is really just a vehicle for stealing money and the other initiatives begun by the ARS are really just ingenious ways to separate suckers from their money. That’s the problem with pseudo-cynics like Tomas; they take a valid criticism and turn it into a universal observation (note "NEVER EVER" in the e-mail above). It’s the only way pseudo-cynics can justify their brand of cynicism because–were they to face the truth–which is sometimes not white or black but rather gray–their absolutist argumen’s would not stand the light of day.
Let’s examine the specifics of Tomas’ argument. To begin with–unless the grandmothers who volunteer in the ARS offices in Glendale are embezzling all of the money that is donated to the ARS–some of the donated funds will get to Armenia. Unfortunately this hurts Tomas’s argument since there is nothing to guarantee Tomas that the name he pulls out of the phonebook to whom he would rather mail the money–won’t be one of the crooks he knows is making off with charitable funds. Even giving Tomas the benefit of the doubt and assuming $15 of the $20 donated gets skimmed by someone–somewhere in Armenia–$5 will get to someone in need in Armenia. The other $15 will go into the pocket of someone for whom it wasn’t intended but it nonetheless goes into the economy in Armenia. I–for one–would rather be made of fool of with the $15 that may be stolen than throw my hands up in the air and say I will not part with my 20 bucks. But I suppose that’s what makes me a fool and Tomas a wise man.
It’s very easy for the pseudo-cynics (or plain old cheapskates who just fashion themselves as cynics) to protest a donation to charity for fear of waste or theft. Very few Armenia’s have the resources of a Kirk Kerkorian to finance their own charitable operation in Armenia–so they depend on volunteers at organizations like the ARS to carry out their charitable intent. If you believe in helping those who are a little less fortunate than yourself (and orphans in Armenia certainly qualify as that)–you have two choices. First–you can volunteer at an Armenian charity. Though no one can misappropriate your time–a pseudo-cynic will usually respond that he is too busy to volunteer. The second option is to give the charity a few bucks. Unfortunately–this option also doesn’t work for the Tomases of the world because the money will surely be stolen or wasted.
Ultimately–the pseudo-cynics get a free pass in their minds because they can’t donate either their time or their money. If all diasporan Armenia’s took Tomas’s pseudo-cynical worldview–Armenia would get nothing from the Diaspora which it depends on in its infancy as a free market democracy. The moral of this story is that the next time you support Armenia as a volunteer for a charity or you show up to a fundraiser and plunk down your $20–think of you response to Tomas. You just read mine.
Armen Martin is a member of the ANC Professional Network executive committee (www.ancpn.com) and an activist with the Burbank ANC (www.burbankanc.org).