“Would you want to live like the Amish?”
As a writer of Amish-themed fiction, I sometimes get this question. I also see chatter about it on sites where readers of Amish fiction gather.
The first thing that comes to most people’s mind are things like electricity, computers, and television. (I do love my Netflix.) Then people usually go on to say that while they wouldn’t want to shut off electricity or toss out electronic devices or sell their cars, they would like to live a simpler life where everything was not so busy and overwhelming.
Slow down, in other words. That’s good advice for pretty much everybody I know, including myself. Stop expecting so much from yourself. Stop measuring your worth by how much you get done and how fast you do it.
Now I think we’re getting a little closer to what “living like the Amish” means.
I have no doubt that the Amish have busy lives. They have to earn a living like all of us. They have children to care for, relatives who fall ill, and special events to prepare for. They have to do the laundry and get meals on the table. It seems to me that “living like the Amish” is not about imitating their technology habits but understanding their values.
“Rejection of individualism.” That sounds harsh to the ears of those of us who live in a culture where the individual is everything. What the individual accomplishes. How much money the individual has. How many prizes and awards the individual wins. What neighborhood the individual can afford to live in. The rights of the individual. What the individual can freely choose.
Among the Amish, the community is the greater value. “How will this affect the community?” is the key question, rather than “Will this help me get ahead?” One of the reasons the Amish dress in traditional garb is that clothing is a visible reminder of the community to which they belong. Individuals submit to the good of the community. Owning a car might lead someone to drive away from the community. Individual pride can disturb the harmony of the community. Television leads people away from shared values that knit the community together.
I don’t fool myself into thinking every Amish community is perfect. I’m sure the Amish get annoyed with their spouses, wound and disappoint each other, and say or do things that have consequences for the community. Yet even in individual failure they know the community to which they belong.
So “living like the Amish” is not just about rules and what modern conveniences we might or might not be willing to do without. Rather, it’s about understanding the connection between deep, inner values and how they are outwardly expressed, even when we bumble the job.
And that’s a question we should all be asking ourselves.
Olivia Newport lives in Colorado where daylilies grow as tall as she is. Her Amish novels include the Valley of Choice series and four titles under the banner of Amish Turns of Times, including her recent release, Hope in the Land.