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.