The Armenian Psyche

Editorial, 24 December 2013

Some years ago a Canadian family doctor asked one of his patients whether she was Armenian. When she said that she was, he replied: “I suspected so. You’re Type A. I have many Armenian patients; most of them are Type A.”

What’s a Type A personality?

The theory of Type A and B personality was put forth in the ‘50s and was popular for a number of years. Controversial in the medical community, the theory expounds that most people are either Type A or B.

Editorial, 24 December 2013

Some years ago a Canadian family doctor asked one of his patients whether she was Armenian. When she said that she was, he replied: “I suspected so. You’re Type A. I have many Armenian patients; most of them are Type A.”

What’s a Type A personality?

The theory of Type A and B personality was put forth in the ‘50s and was popular for a number of years. Controversial in the medical community, the theory expounds that most people are either Type A or B.

Some would say this is reductio ad absurdum. The former supposedly have most of the following traits: competitive, ambitious, high-achieving, high-strung, highly status conscious, jealous, truthful, can’t work with other people, immensely individualistic, lack group mentality, lack respect for others; are creative, pioneering, selfish,  extremely time conscious, don’t give credit to others, are impatient, short fused and imbued with a free-floating hostility. Type B people are the opposite.

Although national characteristics are widely considered as unfounded generalizations and stereotyping, many people believe that there’s a kernel of truth in the perception that there’s such a thing as a widespread collective behavior. Thus, the English are supposedly reserved, believe in the stiff upper lip; Spaniards are austere and prickly; the French and the Germans are arrogant; Mexicans are into the “manana” mentality and the Arabs are permanently in the “ma’alesh” (it’s all right, never mind) mode.

Does Type A reflect the collective personality of Diaspora Armenians? Armenians themselves hold certain stereotypes about themselves…that they are hard working, are generally of above average intelligence, succeed no matter how foreign their new environment, are patriotic, creative, independent-minded, clever, have a sharp nose for trade and business, adapt easily whether in Ethiopia or in Uruguay. Armenians proudly repeat the Turkish-minted ‘witticism’ that it takes ten Greeks to con one Jew and ten Jews to con one Armenian. Armenians say that when three Armenians get together they form three political parties and then each proceeds to produce a dozen more. And then there’s the story of a sly itinerant merchant who stopped at an Armenian village and was defeated when he parried wit with a 7-year-old Armenian boy.

When Armenia became independent in 1990, some 150 political parties came forth to be registered.

A few years ago, after researching the Armenians for her novel which featured Armenian characters, a non-Armenian North American author said that she had quickly grasped that Armenians are a proud, intelligent, literate and passionate people who are very stubborn. One can find related adjectives in Leo Hamalian’s and Ara Baliozian’s anthologies—compilations of things non-Armenians have said about Armenians.

One has to approach the Type A and B theory with trepidation because of its many pitfalls. However, there’s no denying that many characteristics which define Type A can be observed among a great many Armenians. How many times have we heard that such and such club, group, committee is dysfunctional because it has “too many chiefs and a few Indians”? That state of affairs could be linked to our individualism, competitiveness, jealousy, lack of respect for others, pioneering spirit, superiority complex, impatience… all detrimental to a collective enterprise and interest.

Achievement is the fruit of ambition and competition a cousin of jealousy. Being competitive can mean dismissing, even demeaning, the achievement of others. Of course, achievement is also about hard-work, intelligence, pride.

If it’s true that Type A personality is widespread among Diaspora Armenians, what could be the reasons?

Behavioral characteristics are not about genes. There’s nothing immutable in blood and soil. There are no genetically transmitted specific behaviors. National characteristics, however, can be a result of historic circumstances and environmental determinism. The physical world and the conditions in which people live are largely responsible for the make-up of its culture and mores.

Type A Personalities often demonstrate free-floating hostility. Such tendency is apparent in post-Genocide generations of Armenians. The tragedy, the loss, the dislocation from their roots, Turkey’s denial of its crime have scarred millions of Armenians and left them with pent up anger.

The answer to the “Armenian personality type” might lie in the Diaspora Armenian condition. As a persecuted minority in Ottoman Turkey and as immigrants in the four corners of the globe, Armenians are driven: to survive in foreign and sometimes hostile seas, they had to make the extra effort. To feel secure, whether in the Ottoman Empire or in Australia, Armenians have felt that they had to be super-successful. Thus we heard at a recent Keghart.com-sponsored panel discussion that most Diaspora Armenian parents “want their offspring to become physicians, dentists, pharmacists and lawyers…”

It’s said that the French were beaten by the Germans in 1870 and in two world wars because the typical soldier was individualistic and didn’t hesitate to question his superiors.

If it’s true that we are mostly Type A people, can we suppress the profile’s negative aspects and accentuate its positives—at least in our collective and national efforts? Let’s not allow what has made us relatively successful as individuals to sabotage our collective interests. Let’s make a resolution to curb our Type A tendencies in our collective efforts as we begin the new year. And a year from now, on Dec. 31, 2014, let’s enjoy the fruits such a solemn resolution will bear for our nation.
              

 

7 comments
  1. Wow, Bang On!

    Wow, bang on! A well-written, concise and objective analysis of our collective psyche. Will share.

  2. A vs B

    We had personality test once. Mine was A; now I know why. My boss’ was B and I knew why he was the boss. His 11th commandment hanging on the wall of his office read: “Blessed are those who are flexible for they shall not break!”

  3. Type A Personality

    While the Type A personality is genetic to our psyche, we have to add the fact that the trauma of the Genocide has pulled us all towards Type A as well.

    We should never forget that trauma can be trans-generational as well. We are still feeling the trauma of the Genocide as third-generation Armenians. This trauma is pulling us more toward Type A.

    1. Genocide Trauma 

      Many have evaluated the residue of the Genocide trauma. You could have saved your breath. I suggest that you write about our genetic traits which are far more important. A few dare comment upon it. Not me: I have stressed the importance of bringing these to light and of making an effort to overcome them, ASAP. These are: jealousy and uncooperative attitude. Each of us (according to my kin) is "ishkhan-ishkhanouhi" (prince-princess)!
      Do not worry about Type A. Worry about the above  two traits.
      Best to the "hasgtsoghin".

    2. Armenian Personality Genetics

      Shahe, I rephrase a comment I have made earlier.

      The Nov. 8, 2010 issue of "Newsweek" magazine carried an article titled “Sins of Grandfathers”. The crux of the article is the following: “The life experiences of grandparents and even great-great-grandparents alter their eggs and sperm so indelibly that the changes are passed on to their children, grandchildren and beyond”.

      This finding then lets me believe that the descendants of the genocide survivors carry genes that have been shaped by the common experiences. In some sense then they are brothers and sisters and hence exhibit a common personality trait.
       

  4. Re “Armenian Psyche”, “A

    Re "Armenian Psyche", "A people constantly subjected to revisions of its identity ends up by losing it or becoming schizophrenic." –Emilio Gentile, Italian historian.

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