Amish Customs: A Prejudice Against Pride

Last week Jim Potter wrote: “My question for you is about pride, specifically, Amish pride. I’ve heard that to the Amish, showing pride is a bad thing. Is that true?”

In short, the answer is yes. The Amish make no distinction between taking satisfaction in an accomplishment and being haughty or arrogant. All pride is considered vain and sinful. This was instilled in us as children in subtle and not so subtle ways. For instance, my paternal grandmother believed that mirrors should be kept in a closet, or at least covered with a curtain. Mirrors were to be used for women to comb their hair or pin their dresses, and for men to shave.

Humility was considered an important virtue in the Amish community. If someone gives a compliment, the common response is to deny it. To verbally acknowledge a talent would have been considered prideful. It was considered humble to put oneself down. I had to be cured of that habit when I left the Amish.

The “proper” pose for girls and young women was not to stand up straight, but to be more demure, with one arm across the front, their shoulders slumped, and their eyes cast down.

There are ways to “shine” for women to use their God-given talents, so long as they are considered “useful.” Gardening, quilting, baking, cooking, keeping a clean and organized house, or practicing homespun arts are all admired talents. Men are awed for their cabinet-making skills or their ability to run a successful business or farm. Visual artists, poets, and writers have fewer opportunities to express themselves.

There was a blind spot in the Amish way of thinking about pride and humility. There were those in my community who, it seemed to me, were proud of their humility. My husband, David, once put this in a nutshell when he said that I was raised in an environment of competitive humility.

To this day, I have a problem using the word proud. In fact, your question came at a very opportune time, Jim. I’d just had an email conversation with a friend about this subject. I had written to her that I was “pretty pleased” with my new book. She took that to mean that I wasn’t very pleased. Once I clarified that I am indeed pleased, but the understatement comes from my Amish humility, she responded that my book was a work I could be (pretty) proud of.

I responded with this:

Hehe… it’s not whether I’m pretty proud or real proud… neither one is okay in the Amish way of thinking. That is not humble, you know.

Actually, I’ve redefined the meaning of humility in recent years. I’ve come around to believing that humility is accepting ourselves for who we are meant to be. That includes accepting with gratitude those gifts with which we are endowed. By not accepting who we are, we either play small or develop an inflated ego. Either one comes from a lack of self-confidence to develop into who we are meant to become.

The Amish definition of pride includes saying, “Oh no, I’m not good at this,” or other ways of putting oneself down. So in the spirit of letting go of playing worthless, I will say that I’m grateful for having been endowed with the gifts of language and insight, and I’m also grateful that you are mirroring that to me. Thank you.

I just looked up the definition of pride and this is what it says: “a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements… consciousness of one’s own dignity…. proud of (a particular quality or skill).” I was taught that pride and haughty go together, but what I just described seems to fit my definition of humility.

Okay, so here goes. I’m grateful for my gift of writing, and proud of the book I wrote! Thank you for getting me to the place where I can say that. I’m proud and pleased as punch!

“Thanks for being a good friend and coaching me to being able to say that I’m proud of my book.”

This week I am also proud of something else. I braided a woolen rug to be sold at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale in October to benefit Mennonite Central Committee. I like how this rug came out, and I’m grateful to Mem for teaching me this homespun art. If she was still of this world, I would be sending her a photo of the rug. She would probably be proud of me, though she probably wouldn’t be saying so. She would just be showing the photo to everyone who might walk through her door.

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2 thoughts on “Amish Customs: A Prejudice Against Pride”

  1. Saloma, thank you for this wonderful, informative post. (OK, now you can shrug, look down at the floor, and say, “It’s not really very good.” lol)
    I’ve always been English, but as I was growing up I somehow confused being proud with bragging. Maybe it was because when I encountered showoffs or braggarts, they were unappealing to me. I didn’t want to be like them.
    Anyhow, today, as an author, I’m proud of my writing. I’ve learned to beat my drum as I promote my books. It’s been quite a ride!
    (Off topic: About a week ago I filled out a form you had on your website about signing up to review your new book. I said that what I’d prefer to do is trade books, and review one another’s.
    How does that sound to you?
    My just published novella is titled, “Deputy Jennings Meets the Amish.”
    Hope to hear from you soon.
    Happy writing, Jim

  2. I have always wanted to braid my own wool rug. I have started one in a class but we used heavy cotton fabrics(chamois). Just not sure how to collect the amount of wool that I would need. Where do you get your wool for the rug? Your rug is quite lovely. Wish I could see it in person.

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