First and foremost the Amish live for the greater whole (their community, all the Amish in the United States). The whole means the greater collective, which has higher value then the individual. For the Amish; family is their identity; family is what they live for. The Amish people’s true purpose is to live in peace and happiness, raise their children to grow up and have their own families, which in turn they become people of value to the whole.
Do we really know what our family values are? If someone asked you what your family stood for, what would you tell them? One thing I do know, if you would have asked me this question fifteen years ago I would not have known what to tell you other than we were born Amish and if we leave the culture or lifestyle we will go to hell. In my mind we lived for the name Amish and I was not to embarrass my people by leaving.
Now don’t get me wrong, my siblings and I were taught to always be honest, compassionate, and show mutual respect for each other. My parents taught me that anything otherwise were a sin and God knows everything, which made me think that God would strike me dead if I did wrong.
Honesty--At one point in my life I just knew my mother was perfect and she would certainly go to heaven. She would never tell a lie and whatever she did was the right thing to do. Then I grew up and realized that not everything I was being told was making sense to me. I will never forget the first time I realized that my mother told me a lie. I was completely devastated; not only had she lied to me but also that I caught her in the lie. She admitted to me that she had not told me the truth. She completely belittled the situation and did not want to talk about it anymore.
This was a real problem for me because apparently lying is not a big sin after all. However she continued to remind me that dishonesty is sinful. I am trying to figure out why it is a huge sin for me to lie but not for her. Let’s just say it took me years to figure out that my mother was not perfect. She is another human being just like you and I and we all make mistakes.
Compassionate—what does it mean to be compassionate? The dictionary tells us that compassionate means: is a sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce such suffering; to show special kindness to those who suffer. Showing compassion for one another is definitely a well practiced value within the Amish culture. If someone is hurting we drop everything and went to help out in anyway we can. It does not matter if the person in need was Amish or not. Someone in need was someone in need, no questions asked.
Respect—what does it mean to show respect for one another? The dictionary tell us it is an attitude of acknowledging the feelings and interests of another party in a relationship, and of treating as consequential for the self, the helping, or harming of the other.
Honesty is one of the most powerful values you need to practice daily. Honesty is communication that is direct, complete, and expressive. During my growing up years I was reminded many times that I needed to be honest about everything. I was taught that God would know if I was dishonest and that was a sin.
However, I did not receive mutual respect from my parents and siblings when I was growing up. It was very confusing to me when I was asked to be respectful but I was not given that same respect back. I am not allowed to call names, tease, or humiliate anyone. In grade school my nickname was “The Pig”, I was teased about being fat all the time, and I was the target of public humiliation on a constant basis during my teenage years.
Yes children can be very rude to each other but a big portion of the name calling, teasing, and humiliation came from my parents and other adults in my community. I prayed to God to give me guidance and to take the pain away. However, I did not believe God heard me because the pain did not go away until quite a while after I left the Amish culture.
What I learned from this experience is that I will do everything in my power to make sure I never again do any name calling, teasing, or humiliate someone. During those hard years I prayed to God to take my life so that I don’t have to hurt anymore. I just wanted to die. I begged God to show me why I was even born, only to be called nasty names, teased, and humiliated.
My prayers were answered when I was ready to accept those prayers. When I decided that living within the Amish culture was toxic for me and decided to leave; I then realized that my prayers were being answered. I would not be the person I am today if I had not gone through these experiences. I truly believe that God had a plan for me. God took me through the bad to get me to the good. No matter how low you think you are in life, always remember that someone cares about you. Open your heart and mind to accept what God has in store for you and you shall receive. That is what those awful experiences taught me.
In the Amish culture the words materialistic, individualistic, and pleasure-seeking are virtually non-existent. The Amish take pride in the fact that they have been able to do without the materialistic goods we call necessities. When I compare my life today with what I knew at home, it is shocking. For example, the bills I pay today versus what my sister’s family pays. I pay for electricity, gas, home phone, cell phone, car payment, car insurance, home insurance, health insurance, just to name a few. These are all what I call necessities for my lifestyle today and she does not.
For the most part my parents had enough money but as far as I knew money was never an issue. Any discussions about money were between my mom and dad and the children were never involved. My parents did not argued about money either or at least not in front of the children. A $1000 was a lot of money to my parents and it lasted a long time for us. Most of our food was home grown in our garden and the grocery list mostly consisted of flour, sugar, rice, and crackers.
The Amish certainly don’t practice individualism. It is most every teenagers dream to get married and have a family. Get married and not having any children is most likely not an option because birth control in not practiced. And not getting married is certainly an option but when you don’t get married you become labeled as the bachelor or old maid of the community which, can be degrading for anyone. There certainly are unmarried older adults within the Amish communities but I wanted to say that there is a stigma attached to not getting married, unlike the American culture. Again complete respect is not being practiced.
Pleasure-seeking is also not practiced. You don’t do anything for self pleasure. For example taking a bath was to get your body clean, not to relax and have some time to yourself in warm soothing water. Their buggies are made for transportation, not comfort. The work they do is for money for survival, not for expensive toys just for fun.
The American culture would think it impossible to live without the modern conveniences such as electricity and cars. What makes the Old Order Amish unique is not that they get along without modern conveniences, but that they choose to do without it when it is readily available. The Amish value simplicity and self-denial over comfort, convenience and leisure. Their lifestyle is a deliberate way of separating from the world and maintaining self-sufficiency. (Amish are less threatened by power shortages caused by storm, disaster, or war.) As a result there is a bonding that unites the Amish community and protects it from outside influences such as television, radios, and other influences.
Anna Dee Olson is the author of a book called: "Growing Up Amish: Insider Secrets from One Woman's Inspirational Journey" Today Anna is conducting Teleseminars on a regular basis to provide a bridge to the gap between the Amish culture and mainstream America. If you have a question or just want to listen to Anna answer other peoples questions, visit: www.TheAmishLady.com for details.