Puffing away in the gym in Bali this morning, I caught a segment of the BBC’s Justin Rowland’s visit to the Amish on the elliptical’s built in tv screen, with audio via bluetooth headphone. At one point there was an ongoing discussion with different members of the family as to what was ok for Amish or not. Television came up as a no-no (this was on camera!!!), though “green” (solar, wind etc) electricity was a thumbs up.
Among other headscratching moments was a scene with the intrepid reporter (who wore a suit and tie even while shoveling on the farm) and the bearded head of the family inside a horse carriage on the way to town. The horse carriage looked like a refitted mobile home, complete with aluminum windows. A one horse-power Airstream.
One could cynically conjecture, while your fancy exercise machine tells you how many calories you’ve burned, that if you really were to be “not of this world” you should be out there digging holes with a pointed stick. But, like the old Amish father who was sick of being in the cold wind on his traditional horsebuggy, at some point you might want an upgrade. Sticking (sorry) to your beliefs is not something to be ridiculed, but it does get tricky when it involves a family or a community. And it gets trickier when these beliefs are hand-me-downs the wisdom of which haven’t been wholly digested.
What was revealing was that several children in this Indiana family (contraception being presumably worldly) stated point blank that they were not “Amish” in the strictest sense of the word. In a poignant moment, the father tells Justin that he thinks that the Amish way of life is doomed and that “Soon there won’t be any plain folk anymore, just established people. Everyone under my age is now working in a factory.”.
The question of just where the line is of what is a threat to a tradition or what is not, comes down to the universal viability of its principles. Trite platitudes or grand sacrifices are fine if you live on your own on a tiny island. But we live in an age in which, more than ever, survival means sharing. Culture is not preservable, culture is life and growth. Tradition is not stagnation, tradition is continuity and adaptation. If your children leave your isolated culture, what’s left? Selling souvenirs?
Embracing connectivity as a community is a slippery slope, yet there don’t seem be to any other routes. I can understand the fear of the exposure that these kind of communities around the world experience. But surely if your principles are the sharp and viable crampons they need to be in this day and age, and if you hold on firmly to the rope of universal human values, your people can make it to a new land.

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