Thoughts about the “English” Riddle

The other day, I posed a question to my readers about why the Amish lifestyle is so romanticized compared to the Mennonites. You can read my post and the stimulating discussion that followed here

Based on what I heard from many of you, and after pondering the issues that these ideas triggered, I am going to try to write some thoughts I’ve had about the “riddle.” 

Several of you hit on the idea that people want what is hard to achieve. I’ve had the very same thought… that the door is wide open for people to join the Mennonites, while the doors to the Amish are closed, if not locked. It seems to be in our nature that the more we’ve had to struggle to achieve something, the more meaningful that achievement becomes to us. The philosopher, Hegel, claimed that peace times are the empty pages of history. I think that is true for our own lives, too — the difficulties in our lives are more memorable than the good times. Perhaps this is partly because we learn more about ourselves from our struggles than we do from having something come to us more easily. This is also true for the things we read — the more difficulties a protagonist faces, the more we root for that person (provided we have learned to care about the protagonist) and the happier we are when things turn out well in the end. If there was no conflict, there would be no story.

Therefore, if it is indeed the case that people actually seek the difficulties of joining an Amish community, could it be that these people are seeking the meaning that comes of struggling for something? Perhaps in a way, the Amish are drawing more people to their way of life by NOT greeting them with open arms. It reminds me of the saying, “Refusal to sell creates the desire to buy.” Human behavior is indeed fascinating.

Several people also mentioned that there is more information out there about the Amish than there is about the Mennonites. I agree, the Amish have much more PUBLICITY than the Mennonites. However, I’ve had a theory for a while about this. Oftentimes when I am curious about something, and I don’t have  enough information about it, my imagination tends to fill in the blanks. I think this tends to be the case for most people. So all the outward signs — the horse and buggies, the well-kept gardens, the handcrafted furniture and quilts — seem to spell “simplicity.” Without having inside knowledge of whether it really is a simpler way of life, people fill in the blanks with their imagination. There are many examples of this in the popular Amish novels available on the market. And thus the myths about the Amish are perpetuated.

Another very good point that several people made is how we can learn from the Amish. I agree. We don’t need to join the Amish to pull the plug on the television, refuse to conform to the latest fashions in clothing and technology, build a community, deepen our faith, or live an ethical life. But we can use them as an ideal of living a simpler life because as one person wrote, “The Amish make it look so easy.”

Ah, if only things were as they seem — I might still be living “the simple life.” 

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6 thoughts on “Thoughts about the “English” Riddle”

  1. Love these posts. I see there is a whole unseen “undercurrent” to the Mennonites. They lock everything up in their favor, they don’t really want the English in on their farmers markets, auctions, they BUY stuff to resell at these same markets (I used to sell at a farmers market and lasted one summer only because I was stubborn). Customers would flock to the “mysterious Amish” and Mennonites and me, who raised all my animals, did all my own organic gardening, planting, picking, cleaning, packing by myself was ignored but for a few regulars.

    My husband does woodwork but can’t get any business around here. As he says, they use the same tools, what is the difference?

    They are all human too so have their strengths and weaknesses. I wonder about the limited ability to express them but who am I to say?

    I agree, take from it what you will and create your own simplicity. I would love to do this more actively in my own life but I have a VERY worldly husband who thinks more is better and the slower the better (house has been gutted for 16 years, HA!!).

  2. Saloma, that was a fascinating discussion on the earlier post, I agree. I have also wondered before why the Mennonites don’t get the “press.” So it was enlightening to read the theories.

    Your post reminds me of some of the struggles I have had with communal life in churches. I think that no matter what the community, we will always find flaws in it that are related to the fallen nature of our individual desires. The flaws of each community are always bound into its strengths. We have to accept the fact that all communities have flaws, but then we must choose the types of flaws that are acceptable to us when we decide whether to stay in community.

  3. One thing I thought about later was that many people who do join, or attempt to join, a Mennonite church often find it just as daunting as joining the Amish. Some of feedback I have received from people who briefly joined and then left our church ranges from “My husband doesn’t want to give up his television” (now a moot point since we accept internet) to the vague but unsettling “We don’t fit in with your tribe.” Some people come to our church and want to make drastic changes to the way we do things to better accommodate them, all the while forgetting that it was our ways that attracted them to our church to begin with. And then of course there are the people who come, stay, and are wonderful vibrant additions to our church. So I think a lot of times, people want something that looks hard until they actually discover that the reality is not what they imagined, and the work is too hard.

    I fully agree with your final conclusion, Saloma. And don’t think I’m being a copy cat but I’m doing a “sister-post” to some of these thoughts right now.

  4. Saloma, thinking on the very last sentence of your post: “Ah, if only things were as they seem — I might still be living “the simple life.””… Oh, but you DO have a “simple” life! You and David have created a life together and have only each other and God to be accountable to! Oh, sure there are deadlines and bosses, but you are in control and THAT can make it much more simple. And from a purely physical sense of the word “simple”, whoever said that the Plain life was “simple” obviously did not experience it or have friends who experienced it, either! Not having “modern conveniences” may sound simple but it takes a whole lot of time and effort to do without!

  5. Hi Saloma –

    I’m late to the discussion, but I had a few thoughts.

    1) The Amish are more identifiable than the Mennonites by their dress, horse and buggy, etc.

    2) The Mennonites blend into society more than the Amish in terms of their social interactions.

    3) Taking the above into consideration, they don’t seem all that different from the English.

    Susan :)

  6. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. Until I got your comment, Susan, I had forgotten to respond to the comments on this post. There has been a flurry of activity today.

    C, I can imagine it would be hard to live around the Amish and have the experience that they “steal the show.” It is all about perception. I know one of the things that people are most shocked about the Amish is when they discover that many of the foods they eat are not that healthy… sugared cereals, jello, marshmallow fluff, canned soups, etc. One only has to look through an Amish cookbook to find they don’t eat the wholesome foods many people associate with Amish cooking. Good for you for hanging in there in selling your wholesome products.

    Rosslyn, you make some very good points about communities… “the flaws of each community is bound into its strengths.” I would like to quote you at my talk on Wednesday. There is a great deal of wisdom in what you’ve written here. I think the perception of the Amish doesn’t usually reflect an understanding that they are human like everyone else and that they too have a “fallen nature.”

    Monica, your point about people joining the Mennonites and then wanting to alter it once they are there, fits with what Rosslyn stated above.

    Peggy, those are very kind words. I agree, I find my life is less complicated and difficult than it was when I was living in the community. Your point is well taken– part of what looks simple is not at all — hauling water in five-gallon buckets from the pump out by the barn to the basement to do laundry or take baths each week was anything but simple.

    Susan, it is great to hear from you! I think you’re right about the “visible” differences of Amish and most Mennonites. But I have Conservative Mennonite cousins who quite commonly are mistaken for Amish, so I think that plain dress is associated with the Amish, often incorrectly.

    All of this is has been a fascinating discussion, and I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to it.

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