To say that the Amish are a group of people with an accentuated sense of identity is an understatement to say the least. This is because their reclusiveness is not just far from being usual, it also breeds an unmistakable sense of collective sense of identity marked by distinctiveness, peculiarity and uniqueness. Their conspicuousness is readily identifiable; their presence is very imposing. Donned as you would a medieval gentleman or lady, and followers of a lifestyle that disdains direct contact with the modern world, the Amish people are truly a group which invites attention and interest. In many respects, their society exemplifies the transcendent power of human spirit. Put in other words, the Amish people represent the power of human choice – i.e., the power to embrace a lifestyle that opts to be an undercurrent amidst the prevailing culture that accepts changes as normative, if not all together axiomatic.
An Anthropological Perspective
The Amish’s decision to seclude themselves from the influences of the world elicits two-thronged impacts. On the one hand, it enables them to firmly establish their strong sense of collective and personal identity; i.e., they are a society striving to thrive from within. Put in other words, they are a group of people who draw their fundamental sense of identity from their very exclusion. On the other hand, this also can make them vulnerable in ways more than one. Their otherwise stringent patterns of living make them dedicate a fair amount of their energies trying to protect themselves from external influences of the “outside” world. This can lead to unwelcome stress and suspicion as well. It may be educative to look into these aspects.
First, it appears that the continued growth of the Amish population is a testimony of the group’s ability to coalesce under tight circumstances. As mentioned, this is a group that draws their fundamental sense of identity from their very exclusion. But far from being disadvantaged, the Amish people were in fact able to establish that life can offer viable alternatives even for those who deliberately shun the advancements of the modern world. Put simply, their being secluded spells neither doom nor misery for them. At the very least, they are able to develop and muster their innate human faculties – capacity for ethical living, pursuance of scientific knowledge, development of faculties of judgment and will, among others – no less. Their innovativeness, seen perhaps in the admirable way they make their version of airplane, is a glaring testimony to this. In the ultimately analysis, it must be acknowledged that they thrive in as many aspects of human living not really despite, but precisely because of their seclusion. By right of observation, one can say that their identity, which is latched into their being reclusive, does not in any way interfere in the natural human tendency towards advancement and growth.
Second, it is not without good reasons to suppose that the Amish’s effort to seclude themselves from the general society not only kind of protects their collective sense of selves, but it also makes their identity unstable and vulnerable. This has to be acknowledged since the Amish people cannot totally shield themselves from the influences of the world. When travelling from one State to another for instance, they have to ride commercial buses and, however minimally, interact with people who are not like them. Thus, the groups’ seclusion is not absolute. That being said, one can, by inference, say that their minimal contact with the advancement and sophistication of the world may affect the way they perceive themselves.
For a group which embraces a lifestyle with clear and delineated parameters, any intrusion of external forces can bear significant marks into the otherwise fragile identity of the people. Their identity is fragile because it does not, under normal circumstances, welcome an array of influences which is necessary to develop a personality that can accommodate the diversity of the world. This is evidenced by the fair amount of suspicion which defines the way they see the outside world. When one therefore puts a member of the Amish people within the modern environment, and therein let him figure his ways face to face with modern man and all his works, this could prove to be very traumatic for the person. Culturally speaking, it could even elicit a gripping feeling of alienation and shock. Alienation (or confusion) can be very detrimental in one’s sense of identity. In fact, it would not be entirely incorrect to suppose that, in order to cope with an environment that does not serve one’s identity well, an alienated person can resort to behaviors marked by a controlling desire to deflect or escape the situation. And while there can be no scientific basis to the claim that alienation or confusion is the very reason why the Amish people engage in alcoholism and manifest significant incidences of listlessness, the idea – all things considered – still holds water. The idea runs by the basic premise that one’s initial encounter with an unknown world can elicit defense mechanisms of many sorts. Among others, alcoholism, listlessness or even deliberate withdrawal can emerge as adverse reactions towards an unwelcome environment.
This paper therefore affirms that the Amish people are indeed a phenomenon that necessitates extensive anthropological studies in the near future. This is because their group confounds how the world normally does things and lives life itself. In the discussions that were developed, it was seen that the fundamental reason why they so tend to shield themselves from the trappings of the world lies in their desire to establish and protect their very identities. In the ultimate analysis though, any further studies which shall be undertaken with the Amish people as the object, must not only explore on the fact of their isolation, but must also look into how successfully they have used the power of human transcendence, seen in how they have chosen to be different, and thereafter decide to live by the terms of such a difficult choice.
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