Visiting an Amish Settlement
Yesterday I visited an Amish settlement with some friends. It was a very interesting experience. Here is the Wikipedia entry on this subject.
Before I went there I had some idea about these people, mostly formed based on what is generally known about them. I also had a lively curiosity about the idea of living truly away from the vagaries of the modern world, whether it is influenced by religious, sociological or ideological reasons. Surely, Amish settlements are motivated by religion, but I still was looking to understand the phenomenon of that life style, from a larger perspective.
My first impression was one of incredulity. For the first time in my life I really felt as if I was in a different world. When I came to the US couple of years ago, surely I sensed a difference, but it was mostly cultural. But here in this Amish settlement, I felt as if I was in a different world. Every thing contributed to this feeling - their talking, their demeanor, the setting of the place etc. One immediate feeling you have is of being in a different time period, which you only saw in movies and read in books - horse-driven wagons, ancient-looking clocks. The full functionality of these is what actually impresses you. We have seen these objects at some point, but never as if they are part of a daily routine.
As a result of this, one suddenly appreciates the wholly different pace of life there. It is not as if they are idle or relaxed. They are quite actively engaged in some activity. They have all kinds of domestic animals and much time goes into their care. They have huge farms and in season they cultivate a lot, and that too without using any sort of machines. At one place a handicrafts store, where they make lots wooden furniture. But that is not all. In some villages in India, too, people occupy themselves with above activities. There is a significant difference here. Some of it is coming from their intentional shunning of the outside world and most if the things that world represents. You can this in the eyes of many adults there. They are truly not concerned with what they do not have. There were many kids too and it was a little different with them. They were playing and when went there immediately flocked to us and just observed us. Their world is extremely close and well-defined, but they retain enough curiosity and innocence to wonder at anything outside their world.
On the whole I concluded that people are content there. Then I was wondering how I would feel in a world like that. And to my surprise, I could not really imagine myself happy in a place like that. That is, if I am now left in such a place then I probably would not enjoy it. If I always lived in such places, may be I would have enjoyed it, but I doubt it.
On the other hand, I think that people living in these settlements, made the conscious decision to live there and there is a theoretical possibility that they can leave it anytime. So to some extent, it is a continuous determination to keep it going on their part, and presumably they have strong reasons for it. So while I was inclined to conclude that the reasons motivating these people are borne out of tradition and simple adaptability and inculcated over generations, I must admit that they are influenced strongly by their own conception of values and the importance they attach to preserving those values. The fact that these settlements survive to this day means that there is a good number of young people who continue to feel this way.