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Types A and B

Paul Andersen

In the late 1970s, a newspaper publisher in Gunnison wrote an editorial describing his view of mankind: “There are two kinds of people in the world: type A and type B. The type A’s are productive; the type B’s are passive. The type A’s are builders; the type B’s resist progress.” The publisher was labeling people in nearby Crested Butte as Type B people because they were fighting the development of a huge industrial mining proposal that he fully endorsed. I was one of those Crested Butte people fighting the mine, and therefore fit the Type B definition.At the time, I found his black-and-white appraisal of humanity simplistic and arrogant. Now, 30 years later, I have reason to rethink it all. After recently spending an evening in Aspen with a visiting group of young businessmen from Dallas, the A/B conflict has some credibility. It may be as old as mankind. The Bible describes the story of Cain and Abel, the conflicted offspring of Adam and Eve. Cain was a tiller of the soil. Abel was a tender of the flocks. Cain and Abel were brothers, but their sibling relationship was anything but harmonious. Incited by jealousy, Cain murdered Abel. Cain then moved to the land of Nod, east of Eden, where he built the first city. Cain was perhaps the first Type A: a builder. Abel was clearly a Type B: a nomad. Abel’s murder symbolized the defeat of the pastoralists and the triumph of the builders. The Type A’s have dominated ever since. The young executives I met last week in Aspen fit the Type-A description, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. As members of a global fraternity of business leaders, they are smart, witty, educated, motivated, friendly, assertive, outgoing and creative. They are also incredibly supportive of one another. They meet monthly as a de facto board of directors where business and personal issues are shared in a confidential bond of brotherhood. They are also unified by civic engagement in their communities and are well-connected through various networks supportive of entrepreneurial goals. In this column I have often criticized the Type A’s for pursuing material ends at the expense of other values. Perhaps it’s in our DNA, but I am obviously more like Abel (Type B) when compared to business leaders who more resemble Cain (Type A). By contrast to the Cains, many of the Abels I know shun organizational ties and formal affiliations. I count myself among a loose tribe of iconoclast pagans who are more driven to hike or ski a mountain peak than to hone the next prospectus. There will always be a contest between builders and pastoralists – the Cains and Abels – but after seeing how bonded, organized and motivated these young leaders are, I have doubts about Abel’s lasting influence. The future seems to belong to the builders, those who change the world through the force of their collective vision. The great pyramids, the Parthenon, the empire of Rome, the Great Wall of China; these were Type-A achievements. The young business leaders I met in Aspen define the kind of ambition that Western culture rewards with material perks and political authority. This elite minority knows how to grasp, exercise, and hold wealth and power. Realizing the ultimate influence of the Type A’s, I am comforted to know that they come to places like Aspen because of clear air, clean water, stunning mountain scenery and healthy, outdoor activities. Most of the Type-A playgrounds are beautiful natural havens, and it’s in all of our best interests to keep them environmentally healthy. Despite our differences, I felt an immediate affinity with these young leaders. It came from a shared appreciation of nature and healthy environments, the open exchange of ideas, and a strong, fraternal bond. Most important, I realized how vital it is to engage with them in conservation and environmental partnerships. If we are to protect the commons that sustains us all, the Cains and Abels (types A and B) must reunite as brothers in a mutual bond of self interest. Only by building coalitions and partnerships, rather than constantly fighting, do we stand a chance of working toward a sustainable, healthy, collective future.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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