The Amish people, best known for living without motor vehicles and electricity, have been exploited by the tourism, publishing and television industries. I prefer to honor the personal qualities that make the Amish distinctive. I’ve listed 10 of these below.
Why are people so fascinated by the Amish? Could it be that they represent a simpler life that people fantasize about but believe they could never experience themselves? Do they realize that it’s possible to learn life lessons from the Amish and still have cars and refrigerators?
An astounding eight million people a year visit Lancaster County, Pa. to look at the Amish people in those horse-drawn buggies. Since there are only 31,000 Amish people in the county, that’s about 250 gawkers for every Amish person! Do these visits become life-changing experiences, or do these tourists just go back to living their stressful lives?
This inchoate yearning for the Amish way of life has entered popular culture. There’s a literary subgenre of Amish romance novels (often called “bonnet rippers”) that are mostly written and read by evangelical Christians. The top three authors have sold 24 million books.
Then there are the Amish television series, which I’ve never seen and don’t really want to. They have names like “Amish Mafia,” “Breaking Amish” and “Return to Amish.”
Perhaps this surge of interest grew out of the 2006 shooting of 10 young Amish girls by a demented man who then shot himself. The Amish concluded that their faith demanded forgiveness of the man, and many of them visited and comforted his widow and parents. The world was impressed.
In reading a book about the Amish, I learned a German word that exemplifies everything I admire about them. It is gelassenheit, and it translates as calmness, serenity, composure, self-surrender, imperturbability.
Here are 10 Amish traits and practices that I have tried to incorporate into my life, with mixed success:
1. Humility, modesty, quietness
2. Rejection of electronic gadgets
3. Staying close to home
4. Patience, calmness, acceptance
5. Separateness from popular culture
6. Growing one’s own food
8. Simple transportation: bicycling, little travel
9. Plain clothes
10. Inner surrender, overcoming selfishness