Can "Living with the Amish" teach liberals & progressives how to reach understanding & respect differences?

February 8, 2017

"Living with the Amish", a 6 episode series of about three male and 3 female teens from the UK who visit Amish families in different orders and states is a lesson in respecting differences without judgement. The teens learn about things they've taken for granted, the gift of time with family and friends, and ultimately, how to accept and work through the things you may not agree with gracefully, with kindness, love, acceptance and good will for one another.

 

An accidental YouTube find, the series, "Living with the Amish" initially looked like another unreal reality show, but in fact, it has much to offer. The young people from varied educational and family backgrounds in the UK, come to the United States to live with Amish families over a six week period. They arrive with electronics, wearing street clothes, make up and piercings. As a part of their experience, they wear Amish attire and work in roles traditional to their gender.

 

Women's roles include everything from cooking, cleaning, making clothes and quilts and supporting the roles of men to being in charge of handling a chicken farm and working in a family-run carpentry business where everyone, male and female, work from the age of fourteen. The men have the opportunity to hunt, fish, farm and raise a barn. 

 

Both genders learn a great deal about respecting the roles of the opposite sex, love, marriage and relationships without even touching hands until marriage. The initial belief that women's work traps them in traditional and limiting daily chores is challenged as Amish women explain the joy they have in the work they do. 

 

This does not come without conflict and discussion of the opportunities for achievement women in the outside world have. One of the teens is clearly frustrated with the gender-specific roles and with the treatment of farm animals the Amish believe they have dominion over, while another is charmed and enlightened by the experience.

 

The teens meet families from very conservative to having exposure to social media. They're told stories of difficult family separations, drug abuse and jail time, the decision to have some modern conveniences such as a car or cell phone or to live with no running water an outhouse and a stand-alone tub that takes hours to fill for a bath. 

 

The one thing that is consistent from one Amish family to another is the patience, love, acceptance and understanding of their new friends. In fact, although the beliefs and perspective on the Amish varies amongst the teens, their time together is drama-free. The Amish have expectations of appropriate language and modest attire, but their greatest hope is for their the teens to gain something from their visit that will enhance their lives.

 

These perspectives on life, family, faith, relationships, time and values cry out for attention at a time when Americans are more divided that they have been in decades. We are embattled by fiery political views as conservatives, moderates and liberals struggling to be heard and maintain hard fought-for rights and protections.

 

Women have been a driving force behind the rise in activism over the past two years that has reached historic levels. The Women's March on Washington, D.C. had higher attendance than empty-stands of the 2017 inauguration. Massive marches and protests against policies banning Muslims and threats to the rights of countless factions of society continues to escalate the civil unrest of the divided states of America.

 

So there it is. We stand, face to face, in moral conflict. How do we proceed from here, this impasse, that reaches beyond our own borders? For weeks I have been voicing the need for a Left-Right Alliance (sure, call it Right-Left, it doesn't matter). The Amish make it clear that what we lack, as a nation, is any semblance of civility or willingness to hear others and to find common ground.

 

Threats to the American lifestyle include suppression of rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to peaceful protest. Clearly, all sides are in a losing battle. If there is a national moderator to come to our rescue, it may be in the form of Independent Senator Bernie Sanders. While both parties struggle to maintain their balance on a tightrope in the wind, his ability to speak truth and call it as he sees it with unblemished credibility may be our greatest hope. 

 

We're only three weeks into this new administration. We have much to endure and overcome if we are to address the needs of our nation and planet without the danger of increasing hatred and the marginalizing society beyond the dominant white male. 

 

As you look around at marches and protests, in the bank, supermarket, schools, public meetings and at family gatherings, as you engaged in discussions, reach deep. Find any common ground possible and start from there. This melting pot is has reached a heat where we'll all get burned. Reach out, rise up and offer your hand in peace.

 

 

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