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Psychotic Individualism and the Amish

amishfarm

I’ve been away the last week inspecting farms. You might imagine that Chump Lady spends her days penning snark about infidelity, but actually, I have a bit of another life as a freelance writer and organic farm inspector. Well, inspector in training. To officially put my shingle out there, I had to do an apprenticeship recently. Texas has no organic inspectors. I’m it. There’s no one in the Lone Star state to show me the ropes. Which meant I had to inflict myself on a group of kind-hearted certifiers in Ohio to knock this apprenticeship thing out.

It’s a weird skill set — giving advice about infidelity and inspecting organic farms — but surprisingly there’s a fair amount of philosophical overlap. Inspecting is all about maintaining integrity. Farmers who are USDA certified organic have promised to abide by certain farming practices and my job is to go there, snoop around, interview them, audit their books, and make sure they’re not cheating. Because, sadly, there’s some incentive to cheat. Conventional produce is cheaper, you could pawn it off as organic and get a higher price. Organic farming requires a hell of a lot more intensive management, and paperwork. It’d be so easy to cut a corner…

I’m pleased to note every farm I’ve ever inspected are committed to organic practices, and several of them are exceptionally inspiring. Verdant, lovely, well-managed.

To me, farmers are a lot like chumps — hard working, faithful, tenacious. I mean, what kind of insane person farms? You plant a field and a hail storms wipes you out, then the same thing happens again next year. And yet, you get back out there and do it again. Fuck it. You replant. Farmers are subject to the vagaries of the market too. One day they’re getting $32 per hundred weight for their organic milk, the next day it’s $14. When I was a newspaper editor, I covered the dairy crisis. Just heartbreaking. In 2008, dairy farmers in New Engalnd were going under, losing $100 a day on every cow. It was too expensive to keep them, and the prices were to low to sell off the herds. These multi-generation farms were just folding up (we’ve been losing family farms for ages, which is another story, but we were hemorrhaging them a few years ago). To farm is to suffer. The highs are high, the lows are low. The hours are long, and there’s no 401K or health plan. I often wonder why anyone still farms. I think it might be bloodymindedness.

Politically, I tend not to align with farmers. Most that I’ve met (in my former life as an ag journalist) are libertarians, and more religiously conservative than I am. But I respect their work ethic. And the graziers are just crazy — you want to have a beer with those guys. (I once covered an event called “graze-a-pa-looza” where the entertainment was watching a man bend frying pans using the “awesome powers of grass-fed beef” and lift an Amish buggy over his head.)

Thursday I shadowed a couple of inspections on Amish farms in Holmes Country, Ohio. I used to live in Lancaster, Pa., so the Amish aren’t a novelty to me. However, the gaudy tourist industry that surrounds Anabaptists committed to “simplicity” strikes me as rather perverse. Any way, I don’t romanticize the Amish. Live in Lancaster, Pa. and you too will feel the queasy discomfort of seeing toddlers cut tobacco. Amish kids quit school after the 8th grade. Yes, they have a choice to join the church, but really, what kind of choice is it when you don’t even have a proper middle school education? There’s quite a bit about the Amish that gives me pause, beyond rejecting buttons as “prideful.”

But these inspections this week, an Amish dairyman, and another Amish vegetable farmer, left me with a newfound respect for their lifestyle. The communality of it. In both inspections, we got to go inside the farmers’ homes. The vegetable farmer was 38 and he had 9 children. His wife was literally barefoot working in the kitchen. His sister-in-law (who looked to be around 15) was also living there with her identical twin one-year olds. So, yes, that’s eleven children in one household. Kids were running in and out, the father would gently correct them in German, or ask them to go fetch things. At one point, we were traipsing around the stables, and there was a little girl of about 4 in the barn, pushing a pram with an infant. Just hanging out. Clearly, there’s no helicopter parenting among the Amish. Childhood looks pretty free-range — and well, fun. I saw kids climbing trees, playing baseball, running around pastures. It looked pretty idyllic compared with the over scheduled, hyper managed, suburban childhood. I know there must be endless Bible verses, hymn singing, and hay baling. But it struck me that the Amish must not have much opportunity to be lonely,  unproductive, or away from nature.

And I thought too, how completely at odds they were with our culture — far beyond the obvious rejections of technology. The playwright Tony Kushner has spoken of our era as one of “psychotic individualism” — essentially, I got mine, fuck you, and I wonder what’s on the shopping network? Our culture celebrates and rewards narcissism. Virtues of public spiritedness — joining the Elk’s club, a church committee, a charitable sorority are about as archaic as plowing with horses. Consider the civic structures people built 100 years ago compared with what they build today. Courthouses, schools, churches were built out of hardwood, masonry, and stained glass. Compare that to the cheap vinyl shit you see sprouting as subdivisions on what was once good farm land. Churches that look like strip malls, schools in trailers, government buildings seemingly designed by Darth Vader. What we invest in reflects who we are, our values. Near as I can tell we’re cheap, disposable, and have bad taste in carpeting.

Narcissists treat people and things as disposable. They want the next, new shiny thing and don’t value or invest in the things they do have. Why invest deeply in anything? Why commit? That would mean less kibble production. Let’s suck all the value out of this thing and then flip it! Then we’ll suck all the value out of that and flip that one too! Imagine if your soul were Bain Capital.

The Amish on the other hand celebrate (one might say fetishize) humility. The biggest sin in the culture is to be prideful. To put yourself above others, to put your individual desires over the good of the community. Yes, cults operate this way too — but consider that the Amish have a bishop (communally elected, you can’t run for office) and no church. They worship at each other’s homes and take turns. There is no cult of personality. The Amish are not sparkly people. They’re anti-sparkle.

We joke about them. (Those beards, those outfits, it’s easy to joke). But we lose sight of something rare about the Amish — they endure. People keep expecting them to go under, to disappear. Universities sent sociologists out in the 1970s to interview the “last Amish” — and damn if they didn’t keep existing. They’ve been farming in Lancaster, Pa. for nearly 300 years, many on the same piece of land their great, great, great, great grandfathers’ farmed.

What about our culture will endure? The subprime mortgage crisis? The Kardashians?

I think chumps can take a lesson from the tenacity of Amish farmers. Whatever the calamity, whatever the contrarian culture is doing, they plow forward instead. They replant the land. Every year. Every generation.

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  • Oh boy… possibly poking that hornet’s nest?

    Let me be the first to say, “Herp derp Entitlements, derp, derpity derp, flat tax, herp-ah derp, fiate currency/End The Fed!, da derp derp!”.

    There, now that’s out of the way 🙂

    • ??? You referring to ag subsidies? I hate them. Huge loop holes for corporations who either just do commodity crops, or millionaires who have acreage they fob off as “agriculture.” Those aren’t the farms I deal with. Most farms I covered as a journalist in NY and New England were small to mid-size operations (the kind of family farm that’s disappearing in the “get big or get out” mindset). And organic farms, with some exceptions, also tend to be small to mid-sized.

      That said, I believe in the Farm Credit Bureau. Food security is national security. We all need to eat. We need farmers. They deserve some protections.

      • Naw, just anticipating bumper sticker derp from somebody who just finished “Atlas Shrugged” 🙂

        Real life is always messier, after all, than something that can be summed up by a bumper sticker or in a novel that ends with a polemic rant 🙂

        I’m sympathetic to the view that it’s possible to undervalue empathy, reciprocity, and community.

          • Oh really? I’m pretty sure she was a narcissist (and her poor husband would probably have agreed). “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” are like NPD training manuals 🙂

            About her husband:

            “Rand’s greatest cruelty to her ever-loyal husband was to sit him down and explain to him that she would begin carrying on an affair with her intellectual soulmate, Nathaniel Branden. Branden had by that time become the leader of a cult following that surrounded Rand and eventually isolated her from the public in the 1960s and ’70s. Ironically for a group devoted to individualism, they denounced wayward thinkers in Stalinish show trials and lined up to copy Rand’s most prosaic choices (such as her selection of furniture styles). By Rand’s thinking, the affair with Branden was perfectly rational, and emotion needn’t enter into the equation. That was little consolation for O’Connor, cuckolded in twice-weekly trysts in his own bed—nor, as it turned out, for Rand herself, when Branden abandoned her for a younger woman. She denounced him completely in the pages of her newsletter, The Objectivist, and made her followers swear not to attend his lectures. Burns’s book only hints at the full extent of these twisted love triangles and loyalty oaths, while Heller reveals them for the historical record in all their sordid glory.”
            http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2009/0911.odonnell.html

            • Totally agree, TimeHeals, the woman was a complete narcissist and promoted narcissism w/her books. I think that’s why they so often appeal to teenagers! I read them as a teenager, and even then I knew her ideas were infantile garbage, and dangerous garbage at that!

              Love the brain scrubbing image, CL!

  • I love this post.

    Growing up in the flood plain of a river valley, I have first hand knowledge of the lifestyle CL references.

    We weren’t Amish, but my family is Southern agricultural. I *know* the mindset you reference.

    I’ve seen people clean out their children’s college savings fund to buy back farmland that was about to be sold outside the family. When he was asked about it, his response (I’m paraphrasing, but it gets the point across): “I can finance their education or *they* can earn their education. I can’t finance their legacy once its been divided into parcels and populated with soccer moms.”

    When they reference renting out the back 40 in order to pay taxes, they actually *mean* renting out the back 40 acres of farmland & forest in order to pay the estate taxes.

    A drought doesn’t just destroy a crop–it may mean the farmer’s kids drop out of extracurricular activities for a couple of years; it may put his marriage on the rocks temporarily; it may drive a man to drink, or to quit drinking; it may mean his 17 year old son chooses to get a GED and work full time on the farm so they don’t have to hire another farmhand with no money.

    Marriage is very much like farming. Those who are looking for sparkly don’t even get out of the car when they pull up to the farmhouse. There’s a fence that needs fixing, barns that need painting, and scuffed knees that need mommy kisses. And that’s all in addition to backbreaking labor that goes into EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

    I do believe marriage is worth all the effort. But it takes effort.

    I love this post. Can’t wait to see what other similarities occur to you!

    • Good point! Marriage is like farming. If you do it right, you’re sticking with it — and life is going to throw you a couple hail storms.

      To people who would argue that’s a good reason to reconcile with a cheater, I’d say, no that’s not a hail storm. That’s a farmer dumping 20 gallons of RoundUp on his own crops and then wanting a bail out.

      • giggle snort.

        I love that. Round up on his own crops and demanding crop insurance pays out.

        A farmer would be looking at felony charges and 5 years at minimum security prison for that.

        But cheaters who do exactly the same thing are “spontaneous” and “sexy”.

        Round up.

        Gigglesnort.

  • What an absolutely beautiful bit of writing Chump Lady! That resonated with me on so many levels. That is one lesson I ‘ve learned very well in being abandonned after 23 yrs of marriage to a narc. We get up again, replant and keep ploughing through our lives, keep our values and priorities, keep our nose clean and to the grind stone and eventually everything makes sense again, one day. This experience does teach you what’s important in life and it’s really the simple things, the back to basics that our narcissitic society has disposed of for ‘instant gratification’ and false happiness.
    It’s hard turning the other cheek when so much of that is happening around you but eventually all the simple pleasures of every day life, of hard work, of committment to your kids, in doing for others and not doting on ourselves all come together.
    I have been taking Buddhism lessons/classes for the past 2 yrs which really helped me tremendously. I don’t buy into it all, but I get so much good out of it. Buddhists also beleive in humility, cherishing others, not having ‘grasping attachments to anyone or anything, gaining inner wealth(opposed to outer wealth), and basically trying to get rid of or minimize ‘delusions’ brought on by a narcissitic society and our own egos.
    I now am grateful for having been left by my narc…it brought me back home to my own values and priorities, and to a much simpler and more meaningful life.

    • What I like about Buddhism is that kindness is the highest virtue — attachment to others. And that isolation is considered hell. Also the idea that life is suffering. No one gets a pass. We have to manage our expectations and desires.

      Per your narc — I’m glad you’re not with him too!

  • In my neck of the woods, there is also a large Amish population. My dad was an agronomist and used some of their fields for test fields. My dad speaks German, and that was a big advantage. He was accepted in their culture. He is the one who showed me the telephone line that was hidden in the hedge along the fence that they all used. It was like the one on Green Acres. They couldnt have it in the house, but they did use it. Your post made me think about that in terms of infidelity.

    • Hah! The Amish and their secret cell phones! I think the rule depends on your bishop. Most farmers I know have a phone in their barn, or one guy had one on a telephone pole right outside the kitchen window, so he could open the window and answer it. Letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. 🙂

      Cool about your Dad!

  • I love this post! I grew up in a fishing town, I spent my wee years teaching tourists how to fish and when I grew older I did it all, build traps for stone crab, lobster, owned a shrimp boat you name it. But lucky for me I can do fish AND people, so now I work in hospitality because you can’t make a living out of fishing anymore, the government has seen to that with regulations, and the incredible amount of money you have to pay just to stay afloat, and all the imports. I’ve watched a lot of generations of families go down the drain because of it. It’s really hard work but it is so rewarding if only for spending a good amount of time on the sea.
    That’s how I met the X. He was a great mate (on a boat and off (for a while) and I really thought that he appreciated the same things that I did, and he led me to believe it for a long long time. But there were red flags along the way, and he really took a U-turn when it was time to grow up and live a normal life and then shiny/sparkly crooked their little fingers at him. He, shall we say, “abandoned ship” . I am grateful too, life is getting better every day.

    • I think disordered people will pretend to be whoever you want them to be, at least in the beginning.

      Sorry you netted a loser — throw him back!

  • Lovely and thought-provoking post, CL. We can certainly take a wonderful lesson from the Amish. I think the key word is humility and it can happen just about anywhere and sometimes where one might least expect it. Yesterday, my girlfriends and I saw American Ballet Theater at the Met in NYC and as it happens we know one of the young ballerinas in the corps as she began her ballet studies at our dance studio from the time she was seven. (she’s just 20 now). We ran into her mother, just before the show began and she was all aglow as her daughter had been awarded a solo in act one with three other ballerinas. However, we shared in that pride as if it was our own daughter, having seen Skylar from the time she was little and realizing that by the time she was ten had what it took to become a professional dancer if she wanted it. (she did) After the show, we were out on the plaza and struck up a conversation with what turned out to be one of the other two dancers in the pas de trois. (each took turn with solos). This dancer was a bit older and told us how she had been plagued with some injuries and was out for a while, but back now. She was incredibly lovely and humble and told us how incredibly talented she thought Skylar was. She was so kind; very genuine. Here in a profession, known to be “cut throat” was a situation that was anything but. “Black Swan” type drama certainly sells tickets, but maybe the reality is closer to what we saw and what you saw which is people working together for a certain end are perhaps more apt to be supportive and kind as opposed to ruthless and cunning. On the flip side, I do know of a narcissist composer who UNDERSTANDS that to maintain his facade, he must appear to be humble, but that’s merely an act.

    As it happens, I also know some dairy farmers. It evolved over years… the husband was a computer programmer and his wife a lovely dancer and dear friend of mine. He discovered, about 20 years ago, that he had a passion for cheese making and subsequently quit his computer gig to be a cheese maker! After a first business that went bust, (they relied on others for the milk was the problem), they still persevered and became tenant farmers for about 8 years with their own cows and then after much research bought a 200 acre farm in NJ. Holy crap! Not for me, but they love it! Maybe people farm, not for its monetary rewards but simply because they have an intense love of the land and creating something beautiful from it. Its funny, but your cartoon image of you, looks a LOT like her. I’ve always thought so. Oh, and they are about as left wing, liberal as they come… and Jewish; very interesting people with VERY interesting children.

    The “Amish” values, I believe can come in all walks of life and beliefs.

    • I love that I look like a Jewish dairy farmer!

      Dairy farming is HARD CORE farming. You just don’t get a break. Those cows have to be milked twice a day, every day. You’re friends jumped off into the deep end of farming!

      • Actually, a Jewish, former ballerina, dairy farmer. They really did and they’re as happy as pigs in shit! yep. They are up at 5:00 AM or something like that each and every day but they also have lots of help.

  • What struck me about your story was describing the community of families, even multiple families living under one roof. Since the ending of my marriage, I have done some reading on the history of marriage, etc., and I agree with the opinions out there that say our marriages in general have become too isolated. We almost expect too much from our marriage (obviously I don’t think fidelity is asking too much) and now look to our spouse to provide us with everything, whereas in the past, as in these Amish societies, people also got a variety of support (emotional, economical, etc.) from the community at large, through friends and family.

    So I think the “psychotic individualism” of our current society can include chumps as well. We might not buy into it the same way a narcissist does, but I don’t think we can help but be affected by it somewhat.

    In my case, I allowed myself to become isolated in the cocoon of my marriage. So, my “individualism” was more as a family unit, but it was still there. Or, the flip side of looking at it would be my entire community was my husband and kids and that was the only community I was really concerned about. So, within my mini community of my family I was the perfect Amish person full of humility, enduring, etc. Maybe too good. Not enough concern at all for myself as an individual.

    Now I have become both more of an individual but also become more of a member of the community at large. At first as a single mom it was hard to learn to reach out for help from my neighbors. And it was even harder for me to accept it when they offered it freely. I will admit that at first I felt pitied and ashamed that they could tell I needed help. I’m also ashamed to say that it took my divorce to cause me to cultivate new friendships. Sure, I had always had good friends from way back, but I hadn’t been working to forge new, REAL friendships in a long time because I thought I always had my husband at home (what a friend he turned out to be, eh?)

    Now when people are there for me and help me and support me, I am of course grateful and I also wonder if my previous self would have thought to do the same or if I would have just been too involved in my own needs to notice when others needed me (unfortunately probably the latter). Now I am much better at being aware of others and what I might be able to do for them, rather than just worrying about my own family. And now that I am building a new community of friends, if I do find love again, I do not plan to retreat away from that community as I did in the past.

    • aE, that’s a really interesting point about individualism and isolation within marriage. I think a good marriage can be burdened, or at least lackluster, because it’s not oxygenated by contact with a larger community. I also think that if you marry a wing nut, that isolation is particularly toxic. You get tunnel vision. It’s much harder to break free. They control that much more of you, and the real estate in your head.

      A good community of people in your life IMO is essential, whether you’re single or coupled.

    • I think this is an interesting comment, aE. I was married in a church ceremony, and the liturgy calls upon the congregation to help support the couple in their life together. In other words, the community plays an important role in the marriage.

      I’d never thought of the situation in this light before, but our marriage really didn’t exist in a community. STBX was a lone wolf. We had friends, but they were my grad school friends, and in retrospect, I realized that STBX liked them because he could do things for them. They did provide companionship, but not on an equal footing–a bit like pets, really. Once they moved on with their lives, we fell out of touch with the community at large.

      STBX never liked doing anything other than our Friday dinner date. He was always too tired or too stressed out from work. I did have a full social calendar, which I pretty much abandoned in order to spend time with him, especially as his work days got longer and longer. But hey, we were married and married people are expected to spend time with each other, right?

      aE, your post helped drive home that healthy relationships need community. I know that a good social life is not a way to affair-proof a marriage, but living in isolation from community is definitely now on my radar as a warning sign.

  • As always, CL, a great post.

    One point you make is that culture can make a difference. Now, of course, the Amish probably have their narcs and other problematic types of people, but I do feel that our culture has a particular “narcissism propensity.” After all, if Ah-nold is doing it, it must be all right. And the Kardashians…. And what about the Wall Street bankers who almost blew up the financial world in 2008, took a tax payer bailout, and then gave themselves raises the next year?

    So, yes indeed, we can learn from the Amish. Your sojourn into anthropology and relating it to your website — with your description’s lessons in humility and resiliency — is spot-on. In fact, given our debt problems (as a society), it might be smart if we all cultivated at least some degree of Amish-like autonomy/self-sufficiency.

    Chump Son

      • Good point. What I meant — and maybe didn’t say well — was that we could be better off building resilient communities. Not self-sufficiency in the sense of survivalist isolation, but more the idea that as communities we could produce more for ourselves. Right now, we depend a lot on globalization (depending on international financial mechanisms for long/long/long distance trade), and we’d maybe be better off with more close-in, community capability, like eating more locally grown foods, producing more of our own stuff, and the like.

        Anyway, good catch.

        • Well, if we could import something from the Amish, I would hope it was their sense of community. My early religous upbringing was Modern Mennonite (so we could have cars and attend public schools and such). I have wandered far from those humble roots, but the one thing I really miss (and there are things I do not miss too) about not being part of a community is that community really did look after one another.

          But… now I am wandering dangerously close to making excuses for not reaching out and doing more in my own community. I really should do more.

  • I don’t think our culture will survive. And when future archeologists unearth our “civilization” they’ll probably conclude we suffocated under mountains of our own artifacts.

      • It will drive future archeologists crazy if the notion of “real” vs. “knock off” goes into the future! It’s all shit. How will the tell the difference?

  • Didn’t know you’re a former PA resident, CL! Good to know.

    That means you know the proper pronunciation of Lancaster, PA. :-p

    (Hint to CL readers: “LANK-uh-STIR”; not “LANG-kaster”)

  • CL, this time I can’t get on board with you. You have left out the misogyny that the Amish enshrine. And I lived among them in MD for a while in my teens, it may look idyllic from the outside but it really is not. I will never forget the boy in my class who wished to stay in school but the elders always won against the state so he had to go back to his Amish school. The way they treat women should not be ignored either. On iPad so not able to fully express

    • Hey Dat, as I wrote, there is much about the Amish that gives me pause — including child labor, the education system, and women’s rights. My point is that I think our culture has swung to one extreme, and it was startling to spend time around a group of people that were so radically different in their values — which yes, are extremely OLD school.

      But something else to consider — you don’t see a lot of Amish men that leave their wives of 30 years for a girlfriend they found on Facebook. You don’t see a lot of Amish men ask their wives to get a boob job. You don’t see a lot of Amish men lounging around at home writing screen plays while their wife works a full-time jobs and pays their bills.

      There is misogyny in both of our cultures. I don’t reject all the values of our culture because parts of it are abhorrent. On the flip side, I think it’s okay to admire parts of another person’s culture, even though I don’t share all their values or beliefs.

      • I understand where you are coming from with the community that looks so awesome, I thought so too when I first encountered it. Then I remember that boy in high school who wanted out and was afraid. The issue of divorce among the Amish is not a topic, you do not divorce – that would mean leaving. So I’m not sure the sticking with a marriage no matter what is good or bad when leaving means being ostracized by your community. I do agree the work ethic among the Amish is high and a lot of that has to do with social mores which do enter into how people conduct themselves in relationships of all kinds. The best of their community is in the way they are there for each other and take responsibility for themselves and each other. Then I go back to how much coerciveness I saw in that community, they shun people for example. The rules that are adhered to only in name, but if you don’t do it properly it’s a problem, it is rigid in ways that are to my mind very damaging.

  • I grew up in farm country. They are the hardest working people that I have ever met in my life. I used to tell my mother I wanted to live on a farm and we’d drive by the fields in the summer at 9:00 at night and the farmer would be on the tractor plowing and my mom would say “That’s what your life would be like.” I knew then that I prefer to just admire the pretty country and the animals and the hard working farmers but it wasn’t for me.

    The Amish are a little too militant about their way of living but I can see how it’s a little appealing in this overly materialistic world we live in.

  • Has anyone seen that TV show “Breaking Amish”? Where they took a bunch of Amish on a road trip to NYC and introduced them to *modern* life? I think it’s in the second season now. It looks interesting. I’d like to watch the first season, if I can find it. I know the amount of actual “reality” may be less than 100% (as per any reality show), but still may be interesting, for what it’s worth.

    I, too, value what seems like the Amish’s sense of community. And morality. Within the group, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of crime. Not too much stealing, or lying, or cheating. That would be nice. Neighbors actually *talk* with each other. Help each other build things. How many neighbors do I know on my street? A few, casually. The rest? We don’t talk, just don’t even see each other. If I did see them, I might not even recognise them. I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable asking them to help me with something. And, since they are basically strangers, I wouldn’t trust them to be inside my house unattended, or around my kids. Makes me sad, sometimes, to think that the people just a few houses down from me are complete strangers. Does make me long for some actual community relationships, with moral (not perfect, but moral) people.

  • I think what the Amish evoke in us is what we miss in our neighborhoods, at least for me. Growing up everyone knew the neighbors, now not so much. I am lucky to live in a weird little area where we are more friendly than most places but still. I found a website where you can set up a private space for your neighborhood and got the word out. It is helping us get more of that closeness that is missing. So far 95 of our 350 households have signed up and we tell each other about what’s going on, get together using it. Maybe the tech that helped to isolate us from our neighbors will now help to draw us back together, in person even! If you’d like to check it out it’s called nextdoor.com

  • CL, a great article. I live not too far from Amish communities in Indiana. I’ve seen lovely, lovely scenes of children playfully chasing livestock and climbing trees, and the kids seem alive in their surroundings; and I’ve pulled my car over just to watch fields being plowed by teams of draft horses in fields , silhouetted by wonderous sunsets. Often I take the back country roads instead of the highways for my job, just to see the long lines of laundry flapping in the wind (means it’s Monday) and huge vegetable gardens and heirloom flowers that surround their large, unadorned homes instead of manicured weed-wacked lawns. Amish women commute to my town (they pay drivers for travel) weekly for farmer markets and their produce and baked-good are to die for – and they are wonderfully nice people to boot.

    (side note: I was in an inner city pawn shop several years ago – looking to find a high quality inexpensive sewing machine, and observed the oddest cultural convergence imaginable. A van of Amish men comes into the pawn shop top – apparently to buy tools. They and several customers from the neighborhood (men) ended up forming small groups to talk about fishing and gardening; and one of the local men actually said, “you and me come from different places but we’re all the same when it comes down to it.” I’ll never forget that scene.)

    But as everywhere, people are people good and bad – meth use is not at all uncommon in Amish youth and with forgiveness being an overriding tenet of faith – abusers and molesters (they exist among the Amish as they do everywhere) are forgiven if they confess – and victims are often unprotected and have limited alternatives with truncated education and communication access. Secrets are even more secret and dangerous when dysfunction occurs.

  • Disclaimer: I only speak for the Amish I personally know. Every sect is different. My hubz is a narc, and was raised Amish in Lancaster. His mother was one too, very abusive. She was abused, so the evil perpetuated from one generation and down. The CULTure propensiates it with thier patriarchal hierarchy. Women are property, slaves, and have no rights or voices. The women rely on the men for income, and the men couldn’t wash a sock or fry an egg to save their life. It’s pathetic really. From the outside, it appears that their religious convictions keep them in line, but it’s actually fear, fear of being shunned, and that is control. The “Ordinung” is an unwritten rule book. It’s their foundation, not the Bible. Individual spirituality is discouraged. Speaking of the Bible in homes is forbidden. Only the church bishop has the authority to speak of God. I could go on and on about the very well hidden true nature of the cult, started by a man who didn’t like the current practices of his day, so he broke away and started a cult with his own rules. Like pins in the dresses so men would keep their hands off in public. Now this isn’t to say that ALL Amish families fall into the narcissist trap, in fact of 6 children, my hubz was the only one that inherited the unclean spirit. His siblings escaped that curse. They’re all very happy too, and still Amish. Rumspringa was the gateway that let all the world’s nasty habits flood into his life and drugs took all his fears and inhibitions away. He felt power for the first time, and was doomed from there. 3 marriages later and a wake of destruction and addiction, I can only pray for his soul. Not all families are like this, thank God! Makes me sad that some are though. True in any society. My hubz OOA nephew has seen the light and broke away from the church and attends the New Amish Church. They remain the same in dress, but now play music, sing and dance, drive a car, have bicycles, cell phones and tablets, computers, electricity and internet (no TV), travel on planes, indulge in once forbidden restaurant dining, etc. Surprisingly, they’re only “kinda” shunned, as the elders are seeing the err in the olden ways. The nephew is more spiritual than he’s ever been in his life. Was even invited to attend a special ceremony in the old church where new bishops were chosen. That’s unheard of for anyone who’s left and been shunned. Change is coming, and fast!

  • And I do need to add that this is an excellent article! You’re a gifted writer, Chumplady! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us! Our Amish family laughs at organic farming, and happily accepts the govt’s GMO seeds and subsidies. They’re good people, well-intended, but naive. Bless them anyway.

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