Lessons Through the Generations
To live by God's teachings is the ultimate goal of the Amish. They
carefully formulate their lifestyle and culture to reflect the ideals
presented in the Bible.
Amish often say "you can preach a better sermon with your life than with
your lip." Setting an example of a holy life, they believe, makes a
greater contribution to society,
than simply listening to a church service. The Amish use proverbs to
teach children morality and reinforce ideals for adults, threading the
sayings into everyday speech. The sayings promote hard work, character
development, respect for others, and personal sanctity.
The use of proverbs in modern American society, has diminished within this
century. Most likely, this is due to an increase in higher learning, as
well as a society
geared towards written communication. A college education allows
individuals to think with more complexity, eventually abandoning the
simplicity of old-fashioned sayings. Books and computers direct the
written word away from the more casual, spoken format and promote a more
formal writing style. The Amish is a society that does not normally permit
higher education and has moral issues against progress. Theirs is a
culture learned from the simplicity of their ancestor's lifestyles, and
the Amish value this heritage. This simple lifestyle, passed virtually
unchanged through the generations, provides an ideal
base for the continual use of proverbs.
The primary social units of families are the basis of Amish society.
Properly raised children ensure a bright future for the Amish. Proverbs
are powerful tools in teaching the very tradition they come from. Elders
and parents often recite to children to ensure their knowledge of right
and wrong, and even the savings themselves dictate to adults the
importance of teaching children properly. The Amish proverb, "A man who
gives his children habits of industry provides for them better than by
giving them a fortune" is similar to the common American saying "Give a
man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a
lifetime." The saying, "Children need models more than they need critics"
encourages adults to take a positive approach to raising and influencing
The behavior, appearance, and actions of children often reflect the ways
of their parents in any culture. Whether these traits are inherited or
learned, the Amish recognize these similarities. Interestingly, the
proverbs the Amish use to describe this phenomenon are often related to
agriculture. This introduces the importance the Amish place on farming,
and the understanding that the science of agriculture can relate to human
life. Take, for instance, the phrases "The apple will not roll far away
from its tree" and "Such as the tree is, such is the fruit." In relation
to teaching the young, one might hear an Amish adult say "Bend the tree
while it is young; when it is old it is too late."
One of the most important traits an Amish couple can teach their children
is the importance of being hard workers. The proverb "No dream comes true
until you wake up and go to work" relays that a strong work ethic is
essential for finding success and respect in farming. In order to have a
good farm and provide for his family, an Amish farmer has no choice but to
work hard and plan carefully. Without computers and employees, an
amishman is the boss and laborer at his own business; any successes and
failures are through him. If an Amish couple avoids their work, their
weakness is obvious to the entire community by the poor appearance of
their land and home. Rising early and working hard is the best way to
combat laziness and its repercussions. As the Amish say, "He that rises
late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night."
Such phrases can serve as motivation for the Amish to work hard, allowing
them to provide well for themselves and represent themselves well.
Traditional sayings can also relate to how an Amish person's character
should reflect the values of the culture and religion. The Amish practice
defenseless nonviolence, taking a passive stance on conflict. The
proverb, "It is better to suffer wrong than to do it. And happier to be
sometimes cheated than to never trust." relays the importance placed on
avoiding judgement and hostility. The Amish have a slow-paced lifestyle,
which stresses peacefulness and patience. Their calmness and rationality
are apparent in such sayings as "A handful of patience is worth more than
a bushel of brains" and "Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is
patience." Again, strains of farming run through these sayings promoting
patience in "You can't make cider without apples." and "Don't count your
eggs before they are laid."
A close community is central to the Amish lifestyle. Working for ones
self and family is just as important as is helping others and being
neighborly. As the Amish say, "No one is useless in this world who
lightens the burden of it for someone else." Living, worshipping, and
socializing with the same people all your life can be trying at times.
Amish proverbs such as "How pleasant and good it is when brothers are
peaceable, when their doings are in agreement." promote cooperation within
the community and respect for its members. Respecting others opinions and
observations while limiting your own is a critical sckill of conversation,
taught by the saying "Give every man your ear, but few your voice take
each man's censure, but reserve your judgment." Honoring the older
members, or elders, in a community is especially important, as related by
the phrase "If you want good advice, consult an old man."
Religion is central in the Amish culture and with this religion comes the
need to resist human temptations. Finding faith in God and His actions
can be difficult during hard times, but proverbs can provide justification
for difficult tasks or circumstances. The proverb, "Sometimes God calms
the storm, but sometimes God lets the storm rage and calms his child."
indicates that God has different ways of dealing with turmoil. This
disorder is a part of life and teaches one how to be strong and cope with
his or her troubles, as presented in "The gem cannot be polished without
friction, nor the man perfected without trials." The Amish gain an
incentive to trust in God and prayer through the saying, "Courage is fear
that has said its prayers." The consequences of succumbing to human
weaknesses, particularly those recognized by the Bible for the Amish, are
relayed by proverbs. Making one concession can lead to a series of sinful
behaviors, as related in the phrases "One lie brings the next one with it"
and "Getting sick is easy; getting well is the trick."
Amish heritage plays a critical role in the Amish lifestyle of today, and
culture is deeply rooted in tradition. The proverbs passed through the
generations are time-tested lessons of how to lead a morally sound
lifestyle. By following the same values as their ancestors, the Amish of
today are certain that their way of life is consistent with tradition.
The perpetuate the usage by teaching their children with the same phrases
and constantly reminding themselves of their importance. Using the
phrases frequently prevents the Amish from forgetting the sayings, and
most importantly, the lessons they hold.