Amish Proverbs:
Lessons Through the Generations

By: Anonymous

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 children.

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.