I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
One of the main reasons this county of only around 600,000 people is known around the world, is due to the fact that it is home to the largest population of Amish folks on the planet. It’s not hard to spot them traveling the rural lanes and byways in their gray horse-drawn buggies or cruising along on their unique scooters complete with full size bicycle rims and tires.
The Amish are a people of preservation and habit
In many ways they hark to a bygone era. A period when time itself passed slower and life coalesced around the home, the church and the local community rather than some quasi-social attempt at community found in our ‘Google circles’ or ‘Facebook friends’. Thousands of visitors each summer come to gawk in curiosity, interest and bemusement at people who have seemingly resurrected the past, yet are completely inauspicious about it all. They simply go about their day-to-day activities as they always have; each activity meticulously choreographed and practiced according to a unique mix of scripture, tradition and the strict guidance of religious authorities.
Ten Habits of the Amish
Many books have been written about the specifics of Amish life. Today though, rather than dwell on all the details of Amish life, I’d like to mention some of the habits of the Amish that I have found to be applicable to all our lives, regardless of how ‘plain’ we fancy ourselves to be (pun intended). As someone once said, “Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” With this truth in mind, I always seek to glean from any group of people I encounter useful habits that will in turn better my character and ensure a successful destiny.
1. Every Move Counts - Have you ever watched an Amish construction crew build a house? On my drive to work one day, I glanced to the right and saw a new house being built. Taking a second glance, I saw the signature hats all the men were wearing and being new to the county, I stopped to watch out of curiosity. The incredible efficiency with which every craftsmen was ‘snapping together’ this home was simply inspiring. Not a single move was made that didn’t accomplish some task. No one loitered or stood off to one side of the building-site smoking a cigarette or lethargically performing their tasks while zoning out to music blaring over the radio. Incidentally, the Amish don’t have radios. Instead, each man gave his full attention to the work at hand, communicating with his fellow workmen and eliminating wasted time, material and motion at every turn. Three days later, the house looked entirely built while all that remained to be completed was the interior finish and the outdoor landscaping.
2. No Trends or Fashion - The aesthetic part of me enjoys design trends in print, media and technology as well as some of the more classic and less ‘time-stamped’ clothing fashions. However, think about how many resources we in Western society waste on having the latest trendy technology or sporting the latest styles the clothing industry informs us we simply must have to be of any self-worth? The Amish eschew all of this, using the same tried and tested technology and wearing the same simple home-spun clothes worn by previous generations.
3. Understanding Value - On the heels of the previous paragraph, I’d like to include the fact that the Amish know and understand value. Just a few minutes spent watching them bid on a horse at a local auction will convince you of this fact. Another example would be the Amish construction worker who likely won’t buy a cheap hammer at Walmart. No, he’ll spend up to $100 for one at the local hardware store. Why? Because the $100 hammer will add much more value to the work he does and probably last him his entire lifetime.
4. Plan long, build quickly - If you’ve ever watched an Amish-man deliberate on a decision he is making for what can seem an eternity, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to here. The farther from the norm or the routine this decision is, the longer he will thoughtfully consider his choices. But, once his mind is made up, the plan is implemented with lightning speed, accuracy and efficiency. What other community of people do you know of that can build a full-size barn in one day? And what other group of people has a business startup success rate of 95 percent?
5. Community - We all need it. A sense of identity. A place to belong. People who love us and who we love in return. A place where character is built where multiple generations co-exist and learn from each other without a separating chasm of knowledge, belief or values. The Amish community fills each of these inner cravings in such a way that over 98% of Amish youth return to the community for life even after a time of experimentation known as ‘rusmpringa’. To be fair to the critics, I will mention that if you leave the Amish community after having committed your life and soul, everything as you know it will change drastically. The community will ‘shun’ you into the cold of the ‘outside world’ eliminating all of the social contact with family and friends that each member has grown to find comfort and familiarity in.
6. Perpetuity - From generation to generation for over 300 years, the Amish have maintained their way of life with only small variations here and there to adjust for ‘appropriate technical advances’ which don’t threaten their core values. What companies or organizations or families do you know who have this length of legacy and who are as essentially unaltered from the way they were so many years ago? Do you know who your forebears were, even as recent as two hundred years ago? I have always been drawn to the way in which the Amish are able to perpetuate their unique lifestyle in almost identical form from grandfather to father to son.
7. Honesty and Integrity - While rumors of Amish youth in their ‘running around’ years abound, the Amish are well known for their square dealing and simple reliability in business. This reputation has been used as a marketing method by non-Amish companies who sell ‘Amish quality furniture’ or ‘Amish style baked goods’ since the name is synonymous in our minds with a wholesome and quality product.
8. Forgiveness - In a list of Amish qualities, I would be remiss to not mention this one. A few years ago, the world stood aghast in horror as they heard of the atrocity committed only a few miles away from where I sit typing this blog post. A lone gunman entered a one-room Amish school and snuffed out the lives of innocent school children before turning the gun on himself. The act in itself stunned everyone who heard. But, the response of forgiveness from the girls’ families stood in stark contrast to the usual request for revenge from a victim’s close relatives. The media analysed the response for months afterward, perhaps even looking for cracks in such a signature act of loving forgiveness.
9. Personal Responsibility and Mutual Assistance - There is no such thing as an Amish welfare recipient. Each one does what he or she can to contribute to the common good of their large multi-generational families and beyond that to the Amish community at large. Social Security is not an option. As a matter of fact, the Amish are exempt from Social Security. Instead, each member knows that in the event of a major life emergency, the community will muster all their combined resources if need be, to alleviate the suffering of that one member who’s house burned down or who’s medical bills have pushed them to the edge of bankruptcy.
10. Build Strong Relationships - I saved the best for the last. The strong bond of relationship among families who spend many of their waking hours together in meaningful work and play is incredibly powerful. Home businesses and family farms ensure that many Amish families build their lives on loving family bonds. Yes, there are anomalies. And, no, not all Amish families have as picture perfect an existence as the popular Amish romance books would like to portray. But, the Amish know the strength and value of relationship which extends from the family to the community and even into the world of business and the outside “Englishers” with whom they are more than happy to do business with though refraining from our way of living.
- A Pocket Guide to Amish Life
- A History of the Amish
- Amish Values for Your Family: What We Can Learn from the Simple Life
- Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving
Has your life been impacted by this group of people? Share your thoughts in the comments below.