At the Intersection of Two Cultures

I became familiar with the ways of the Amish in Huevelton, New York, when Anna lived with us. So when I read the report about legislators attempting to force the Amish to display the orange triangle on their buggies. I groaned inwardly becasue I knew that this strategy will not work. So I wrote up my thoughts on the subject and submitted it to the Watertown Daily Times. It was published today.

Contrary to a common belief, the Amish are quite diverse in their church Ordnung (set of church rules) from one community to another. Because there is no overarching authority, like the pope in Roman Catholicism, each bishop has some autonomy and therefore a slightly different emphasis on what is important to stress in the Ordnung.

In Northern New York, there is a large contingent of the most conservative Swartzentruber Amish. There have been many splits within this group, so there are now six or seven variations among them.

The more conservative Schwartzentruber Amish need exemptions from secular laws to maintain their Ordnung because they determine every aspect of a person's life, including the size of windows in their houses, the use of phones only in emergencies (and then they ask the neighbors to talk for them), and they eschew any bright symbols on their buggies. In recent years there have been issues around building codes, electronic filing of taxes, and refusing to display the orange slow-moving vehicle emblem on their buggies.

Often when the Amish cannot get exemptions in one state, they will move to a different one. But the problem is that the Swartzentruber Amish are running out of places to move to that will give them all the exemptions they need to maintain their Ordnung. They are essentially boxing themselves into a corner.

I hope you will read my proposed solution to this problem and leave your thoughts in the comments section. Also, if you feel so moved, please share this on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media.

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12 thoughts on “At the Intersection of Two Cultures”

  1. Having worked nearly 30 years as a 911 dispatcher I agree they need something reflective on the back. The county squads responding to an emergency on a rural road are traveling a higher rate of speed. The township roads are not always paved which could become very serious in attempting to slow down as you approach “something” in the road.
    This would be a case where human lives should be number one when traveling in a dark buggy.

    1. That is certainly the way most people will see the issue. But the Amish in the North Country seem to try to outdo one another in holding the strictest Ordnung, and obeying the rules of the church becomes more important to them than safety. They believe everything is in God’s hands, including anything that happens to them as a result of an accident.

      I think that the Amish should be given responsibility for making their buggies more visible at night. Otherwise they become martyrs, willing to disobey the laws “of the world” to maintain their Ordnung.

  2. So Saloma, in your solution you said to have the church leader(s) ride in a police cruiser so they could try to understand the problem–if Swartzentrubers can’t ride in cars, doesn’t that kind of cancel out the solution?

    1. Carol, that is a good question. The church leaders are the only ones who have the authority to make exceptions… which they do occasionally, mostly for emergencies.

      Just today I found an article about the triangle issue, written back in 2013, and apparently it’s already been done. Here is a link to the article, which is quite lengthy:

      The part about the test drive is near the end of the article.

  3. Wonderful ideas! I think it’s human nature to resist a command especially if one disagrees with it. Add religion to the mixture and viola-fireworks! By allowing the Amish leaders to participate in a solution is both respectful and peaceful. I wonder if the “English” who have experienced conflicts with buggies, in particular colliding with them, could let the Amish leaders know how the experience has effected their lives. In a sense, they too were victims. If I ever maimed or killed a person it would greatly affect my mental well-being. Maybe if the leaders were approached with a “please help us” attitude they would be more receptive.

    I agree with you about time constraints and consequences for lack of participation. Otherwise, the possibility of nothing changing is quite strong.

    1. Fran, it’s great to hear from you. That is an apt assessment of the situation, adding religion to the mix. And I agree with you about the idea of hurting someone, albeit by accident. There was a situation like that in Missouri recently, when a woman was being blinded by the sun, and she didn’t see a pony cart on the side of the road… driven by a ten-year-old boy. He died, and his two sisters who were traveling with him survived. the woman who hit them said she knows she will be living with this the rest of her life. It is heart-wrenching.

      I’ve thought of that also… conveying to the Amish how scary it is to come around a bend and barely see a buggy in the road, and how hard it would be to live with if they had hit the buggy. I know at least one person who lives up there who says she doesn’t drive after dark because she is so concerned about that.

      Yes, the consequences have to be something that directly affects them but doesn’t make martyrs out of them.

  4. This story about the reflectors is most interesting. I think it must be almost impossible to understand the dynamics of the whole business if you don’t have an amish background. It makes it even more complicated when you get caught in trying to find a solution with those strictest of orders by trying to force them to do something. I hope that the authorities will take your ideas of a solution to heart and try to work it out that way. I have an idea it just might be one of these things that the “outside world” is going to keep having trouble with if not in one place but another because of moving. I have just reread the book Amish Grace which is very helpful in explaning the concept of believing everything is in God’s hands. Gr. Mary Maarsen

  5. Your solution certainly makes more sense than what they have done so far. Why does anyone think that taking people who are mindful of a martyr heritage and putting them in jail over a sticker on their vehicle will yield results? You could put them in a dungeon over that sticker and their own people would declare them heroes for doing the right thing.

  6. Saloma, Excellent purposed solution. I drive Route 11 through the Schwartzentruber Amish area several times each year. Route 11 is a busy road with heavy truck traffic. One time I was headed west as the sun was setting and came upon a Schwartzentruber buggy. Fortunately the road had a wide shoulder, but I thought what would have happened if the horse had been spooked and drifted into my path. The black buggy blended into the recently paved black road. I have discussed this with an Amish Bishop that I know in Conewango, I asked, was it fair for me to live with the thought that I could have killed an Amish person in this situation? He really had no response. Tom, The BackroadsTraveller

    1. Thank you, Tom, for your kind words. A stalemate will not achieve anything.

      I am not surprised about the response you got in Conewango… I sometimes wonder if some Amish think they have market cornered on martyrdom. They don’t seem to extend the same empathy to others as they expect to receive themselves.

      I know exactly the stretch you are referring to. David and I also had a situation in that area. It was dusk, and some Amish man had pulled just off the pavement onto the shoulder of the road to light his lantern, in a place where there was a hill ahead of him and one behind him. We were traveling towards him, when an eighteen-wheeler came barreling down the other hill, and swerved into our lane to avoid him. My husband was driving and he responded by swerving to the side, otherwise we would have gotten creamed. In that case, the Amish man would not have been hurt, but he would have caused the accident. I cannot understand why they cannot see how their stubbornness is a danger to everyone.

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