A Question About the Amish
August 30th, 2010

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Dear John,

The kind of lifestyle you advocate isn’t just Spartan, it’s downright masochistic. Your way of life seems more like a prison to me. It’s only for the Amish, or others who make self-denial into a lifestyle. I think people like you are crazy.


Dear Anonymous,

Each of us are responsible for our own choices. I understand that eating with more restraint feels like too much for you right now. Who knows? Maybe at some point down the line you might feel more interested in the benefits you could obtain. Or maybe not.

But could I ask that you not judge others so harshly for making different choices than you wish to make? What for you feels like self-deprivation may feel very different to someone else. One person’s tyranny is another person’s discipline — and another person’s freedom.

I’m reminded of a time that my son, Ocean, was 12, and a relative mocked him for not eating meat. “You don’t know what you’re missing by not eating chicken,” he was told. “That’s true,” he smiled. “I don’t. But you don’t know what you’re missing by eating chicken.”

Just as you can only truly see the stars when you turn out the electric lights, sometimes there are treasures that are only ours when we forego certain things.

You mention the Amish. These are people who came to America with little more than the clothes on their backs, and who make some of the finest hand-crafted solid wood furniture in the world — including my family’s own kitchen table. It is true that they forego many things (including computers, electricity, and automobiles) that most Americans take for granted and couldn’t imagine doing without. But their way of life offers rewards that most Americans can only dream about. For example:

  • Virtually every adult in the Amish community has an independent livelihood as the owner of a farm or a business.
  • There is almost no crime, no violence, no alcoholism, no divorce, and no drug-taking.
  • They accept no government help with health care, old age assistance, or schooling after the 8th grade. (They were forced by the government to accept first through eighth grade schooling.)
  • The success rate of Amish in small businesses is 95%, compared to the U.S. rate of 15%.
  • All Amish children are offered an expense-paid sabbatical year away from Amish life when they arrive on the verge of adulthood, so they can see the world and decide for themselves if they want to remain in the community and follow its ways. Eighty-five percent of all grown children choose to remain in the community.
  • The Amish are extraordinary neighbors. They are the first to volunteer in times of crisis and need. They open their farms to ghetto children and frequently rear handicapped children from the non-Amish world whom nobody else wants.
  • They farm so well and so profitably without chemical fertilizers or pesticides that Mexico, Canada, Russia, France, and Uruguay have hired them as advisors on raising agricultural productivity.

If you don’t want to make any such sacrifices, that is certainly your privilege. But please don’t put others down for making choices they find fulfilling. My experience is that there are pleasures in life that are healthy and life-affirming, that enhance our ability to experience joy and gratitude. And there are also pleasures that, the more we indulge in them, the less able we become to enjoy life. The first kind of pleasures give us life; the second kind drain us. I think that wisdom has something to do with being able to tell the difference.

Your friend,

These comments are moderated to support respectful, non-commercial, and open-minded dialogue.

5 Responses to “A Question About the Amish”

  1. Lee says:

    There are so many worse things to be compared to than the Amish, no?

  2. donna s says:

    I like the “Amish” lifestyle notes. Yes the Amish are lovely in SOME ways. Let’s not forget (unrelated of course) that they are the worst offenders when it comes to puppy mills.

    Thank you for your blog. 🙂

    Donna S.

  3. Zhabiz says:

    Thank you for posting this. I think it is very important that people understand that voluntary simplicity does not in any way detract from ones life but actually enhances it. I would like to add what I consider to be an important point. The Amish have a life expectancy comparable to that of the general American population, in the mid-70’s. This is true despite the fact that, for the most part, they do not use modern medical care and have diets high in fat (though I would not recommend this part). This has been true for the past 300 years, even during times when the average American life expectancy was in the 40’s. This has been so remarkable that researchers are studying them for their longevity. So, once again, thank you for bringing to attention this very remarkable society.

  4. Mala says:

    Dear John,
    I completely agree with your views on living a self restrained lifestyle. The truth is so simple, I can’t see why people don’t get it: one can live a life of indulgence only to come to a point where Nature punishes you for the wrong choices you make. After that one is forced to succumb to disease and depression or muster the courage to change. The ability to see one’s mistakes and change before being forced to do so is indeed a great blessing. The former is much more painful and frustrating.

    For me personally, living a spartan life (to the extent possible) has freed me from insecurities of money, ill health etc. My existence is peaceful and free from the tight grip of consumerism.
    God bless you for inspiring so many people including myself.

  5. Laurel says:

    I am with you on most everything but I ask… have you ever googled “amish puppy mills”? This blog is especially revealing of a 27 year old who in her words “escaped” from the Amish.

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