The Amish Way of Communicating with Nature

"A way of living is more important than communicating it in words. The ultimate message is the life. -- An Amish person will have no doubt about his basic convictions, his view of the meaning and purpose of life, but he cannot explain it except through his life."

- John A. Hostetler, Amish Society, 1993  


" One important principle is Gelassenheit. This is the idea that a believer should surrender to God by living in a way that pleases God and by obeying legitimate religious authority. Amish see self-denial and obedience to church authority as important virtues.  Gelassenheit is layered with many meanings--self surrender and self denial, resignation to God's will, yielding to others, gentleness, a calm and contented spirit, and a quiet acceptance of whatever comes. Although the word rarely is spoken, the meaning of Gelassenheit is woven into the social fabric of Old Order life. It reflects the most fundamental difference between Old Order culture and modern values."

 - Donald B. Kraybill, The riddle of Amish culture, 1989

The core value of Amish society is captured in the German word Gelassenheit (Gay-la-sen-hite). Roughly translated, Gelassenheit means yielding oneself to a higher authority. The Amish speak of “giving themselves up” to the church. Gelassenheit carries many meanings—self-surrender, submission, yielding to the will of God and to others, contentment, and a calm spirit. Most important, Gelassenheit is the opposite of bold individualism that promotes self-interest at every turn. This is the point where Amish society diverges most significantly from contemporary culture.

The Amish abhor pride—attitudes and actions that clamor for attention and recognition—and teach the importance of humility. Showy clothing, wristwatches, fancy drapes, and ornaments on a harness may signal pride in Amish life. The prohibitions against cosmetics, jewelry, and personal photographs are designed to prevent pride.

Humility and obedience are twin virtues in Amish culture. A spirit of humility signals respect for others. Members are taught to obey those with authority over them: children their parents, students their teachers, wives their husbands, members their leaders, and younger ministers their bishop. Everyone is expected to obey the will of God as taught by the community. Despite the strong emphasis on humility and obedience, the Amish express great respect for the dignity of each person.

Community and tradition also play important roles in Amish life. The welfare of the community ranks above individual rights and choices. Communal wisdom, accumulated over the decades, is valued more than the opinion of one person. Traditional beliefs and practices are esteemed above scientific findings.

Gelassenheit is a means of putting the greater-good above an individuals selfish goals. In a world so desperate for sustainable ecology, which is principally eroded by greed, Gelassenheit is a valuable path toward a healthy future for the planet. 

NatureNicole Porter