I just finished reading Amish Values for Your Family by Suzanne Woods Fisher. I have now read all of her non-fiction books on the Amish. I started off with Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World and I was hooked. I followed up with Amish Proverbs and finished with the above. Fascinated doesn’t even begin to describe what I feel.
I came away from this with a new-found respect and admiration for the Amish people. They are not the backward, technology-hating sect I once believed they were. They do not shun technology but are skeptical of it and rightfully so. The elders of a group will get together and evaluate the potential future impact of new technology and decide to ban it or allow it. They banned the automobile because they believed it would make it too easy to get far away from the community, which is the center of Amish life. The horse and buggy limits that distance. They banned the telephone within the home because they believed it would discourage face-to-face visits, another important aspect of Amish life. Looking at our society now, they were right on both decisions. The automobile has allowed people to spread out all over the country, separating families and friends by sometimes thousands of miles. The telephone has allowed us to “visit” without actually sitting across the table from one another. The internet has allowed us to sit behind keyboards and say things to each other without having to see the hurt our words may cause.
The Amish also stress the importance of community. They are always there to help at a moment’s notice. Whether it is for a birth, a death, a barn raising, or any other need, the Amish rally around their own (and sometimes even the “English” people nearby). This is because their community relationships are built on strong foundations of love,faith, and respect.
There is no room for competition among the Amish. There is no jealousy or backstabbing. If there are those feelings, they work to remove them. One example of this is a story related in Amish Peace where a community member wants to start a business and the elders inform him that instead of what he wanted to do, he should open a buggy-repair business because there was only one, which indicated a need for another. Because this man valued the needs of his community above his own, he complied. He knew nothing about buggy repair, so he went to the man who owned the only business. That man taught him everything he knew. Willingly and without hesitation. Would that happen in the “English” (non-Amish) world? I have to think not.
Another story in Amish Values for Your Family talks of a Trivial Pursuit game of men against women. There was no heckling. There was only compliments on correct answers to tough questions and encouragement. How often does that happen at your friendly game night? I can’t recall it ever happening here. Our game nights usually ended in hurt feelings and ugly words.
The Amish are also fully self-supporting. They take no government assistance, have no medical insurance, and no life insurance. They take care of their own and somehow manage to do just fine. They still visit doctors and hospitals when necessary, but pay for it out of pocket. Sometimes, communities will conduct fundraisers to help someone with medical bills. Through it all, they live simply and happily.
The Amish do not go to school past eighth grade yet they manage to run highly successful cottage industries. Their children are usually educated in one-room schoolhouses within their communities.
They also place a high value on unconditional forgiveness. Their ability to forgive is incredible. They will be the first to tell you that they are far from perfect at it, but it is something they work very hard on. How many of us could or would willingly and unconditionally forgive someone who caused us great harm? One a person publicly asks for forgiveness, usually at church, it is immediately given and the issue is never spoken of again. The person is restored to the place they were at prior to the sin or infraction.
The Amish are one of the fastest, if not the the fastest, growing communities in the United States. After Rumspringa, a term used to describe the period when sixteen to twenty-one year-olds are allowed to experience life outside of the Amish world, eighty-five to ninety percent of young people become baptized into the Amish church. That’s right. Only ten to fifteen percent do not join the church. No other religious group can claim such high numbers.
Their rates of depression are almost non-existent. Their divorce rate is essentially zero. What is about them? Is it their rock-solid faith? Is it their focus on living simply? Is it both? I would love to spend a day (or much longer) with them and try to figure it out. Whatever it is, they are clearly on to something.