Friday, January 05, 2007

The Plain People

As I sat in my chiropractor's office today, waiting my turn, I watched a pretty young Amish girl, perhaps four years old, as she looked back at me with wide, curious eyes. Dressed in the usual Amish navy dress and bonnet, she was as alien to me as I was, I'm sure, to her.

It's not that I don't know anything about the Amish. I know more about them than most people do. I have worked with them, baling hay, when an Amish farmer needed some help. I have broken bread with an Amish family, as a guest in their home. I often purchase pies and pastries from an Amish family that owns a farm adjacent to my brother's place. Although I know a lot about them, our lifestyles and attire are very different from each other, and that is what we dwell on as human beings: the differences between us.

I admire the Amish. They are industrious, honest, and responsible. They want nothing from anyone else, other than to be left alone. Sound familiar? I may not dress like them or live like them, but that is all I want too. Don't tell me what to do, and don't make me pay for things through taxation that I don't want, or don't approve of.

As I watched the little girl, I wondered what sort of life she would lead as she grew up. Would she suffer because she didn't have an iPod or video games, or because she couldn't watch television? Would she consider herself disadvantaged because her family chauffeurs her around in a horse-drawn buggy, instead of in a heated and air-conditioned car? Would she be emotionally crippled because she wouldn't be able to wear makeup , mini-skirts and halter-tops when she got older?

What do you think?

I suspect that Amish children are at least as well-adjusted as any other kids. Because they are taught from birth to be responsible and self-sufficient, absent any biologically-caused mental disorders, they will have a feeling of self-worth that many of our own children will never achieve. As much as we try to grant self-esteem to our offspring, it is not ours to give. They can only earn it. And living a pampered life of instant gratification of every whim isn't going to do that for them.

Will that little girl ever get divorced when she grows up and marries a young Amish man? Not likely. Will she be happy in her relationship with her husband and children. Probably. She will know what she is, what her roots are, and what is expected of her. There will be very little ambiguity or uncertainty in her life.

As I sat and thought about the little girl, a young Amish boy of about six years old arrived with his parents. Like the little girl, he looked at me openly, curious about someone who didn't dress like him or his father. I smiled at him, as I had at the little girl. They are different than I am, but they are not inferior to me. I wanted both children to know that even if they might occasionally suffer ridicule by the inevitable ill-informed and ignorant individuals among us, most of us recognize the reality that deep down we are all the same, and should respect each other as equals.

The Amish are sometimes known as 'The Plain People,' because of the way they dress and live. They may not have cars to drive, jewellery to wear, and electricity and plumbing in their homes, but we could learn a lot from them. The little Amish kids I saw today warmed me and reaffirmed my belief that someday the human race will grow up and learn what is truly important: tolerance, understanding, integrity, responsibility.

I don't want to give up my car, my electric guitars, or my electronic gadgets. But I can still admire the Amish and envy their balance. We can all learn from each other.


  1. I greatly admire simplicity. I often long for a room such as one might find in a monastary: one bed, one table, one chair. I'm not sure how I'd fare as a Plain Person, but it seems awfully appealing to me in a town surrounded by materialism. Which everyone knows is not gratifying.

  2. I also admire their peacefulness and simplicity, and perhaps, if we don't start doing something about golbal warming now, we might all have to live like them in 50-100 years.

    However, I think your comparison between the Amish and Libertarians is flawed. They may, as a group, do pretty much what they want, but individual Amish persons see their liberties and choices SEVERELY curtailed by their own group's authority. It is a form of deeply repressive local government.

    Also, while they may not be unhappy, Amish kids are not given the same choices and opportunities as others. And if they ever want to get out into the real world, they will probably be very disfunctional and ill-equipped for modern life.

    I'm personally opposed to early indoctrination of children into their parents religion. Kids believe everything their parents say, so by the time they are old enough to choose whether or not they want to be religious, or which religion to join, they have already been brainwashed into believing their parent's religion is the ultimate truth. Most people never get over that early programming.

  3. Agree with you completely. I've been living simply for a very long time and can't imagine going back to anything else. As for the marriage aspect, I find that appealing as well. But I'll tell you the best thing about the Amish, imo. Their reaction to the schoolhouse shooting was just... inspired.



  4. I discovered your blog while reading a favorite, "Thailand Gal".
    I read your profile and loved your choice of books (Atlas Shrugged is one of my favorites) and music. And your "why"!

    As for the Amish, I think the world today needs to take a lesson from them.

  5. Thanks for dropping by my blog this morning. Anyone who mentions "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" has got to be an okay guy.

    Have you read any of the very unusual libertarian science fiction by L. Neil Smith?



  6. Bellezza: I'm not usre how I might fare as a monk. I could live with one bed, one table, but I would definitely want two chairs and someone to share the bed.

    Sylvain: You make so many points that I can't possibly address them in a comment here. Maybe I'll write a post in response in a couple of days. Always nice to see your comments.

    Thailand Gal: I love your blog and yes, I have read L. Neil Smith. My favourite is 'The Probability Broach.' Great writer.

    Pam: Welcome, and thanks for your comment. I visited your blog and found your work and outlook on life inspirational.

  7. Atavist - have you ever been to a Quaker meeting? i sort of find it to be a nice balance...

    on another note - the place we go in Belize is next door to a gigantic mennonite community - i so love, too, the simplicity, the know-how, and the community.

    And on another note - there was a documentary (I can't remember the name) about amish teens who leave the church and go off on their own - disturbing to watch..have you seen it?

  8. jen: I have never been to a Quaker meeting, but have read about them. There are no Quakers, at least that I know of, in our part of the world. I find the diversity of all these groups quite interesting, although I am not likely to run out and join up with any of them any time soon. I found reading about the Shakers quite fascinating too, especially how their religious beliefs spilled over into the beautiful Shaker-style architecture and furniture design.

  9. oops! I just realized I didn't answer jen's query about the documentary on Amish youth. I actually did see part of it. It should be no surprise that youth sheltered as the Amish are might experience problems in the larger community. However, I am always suspicious of drawing universal conclusions from very few examples. Viewing a documentary about how happy and well-adjusted most Amish children are wouldn't be very interesting to many people. It's like Michael Moore documentaries... as interesting and as entertaining as they might be, his outlook is well-known beforehand. He finds examples that will support conclusions he has already made.

    The fact is that there are misfits and malcontents everywhere. Some are Muslims, some are Amish, some are atheist. These individuals will be unhappy wherever they are, and whatever their influences might have been.

    The Amish I have known are well-adjusted, responsible, honest, dependable and humble. Their children are delightful. May we draw any universal conclusions from my observations? Of course not. I have only met several dozen Amish and although they were all great people, I'm sure there are examples of Amish who are less well-adjusted.