15 responses to Interview Excerpt: An Amish builder on working moms, mortgages, and making car payments
  • Tap tap, is this thing on? Or are my comment priveliges zapped yet?
    Critiquing western culture is so in vogue. Doesn’t anyone ever criticize the Amish? This guy dosen’t seem to be pulling his punches. Whats the chance he would turn some of that incisiveness back onto his own community? That would be a good thing, right?

  • I agree a lot with what this amish gentleman says! My hubby and I choose to live in a small but comfy home so our bills are manageable and we don’t have to fear the utility bills! We buy good used products when we can to save money and use a thing until it is worn out beyond use! If I buy new, I buy for the best price I can and get the best quality I can afford. I am much happier in my modest 700 square foot home than I ever would be in a huge 5000 square foot home!

  • I’ve been known to criticize the Amish from time to time. But respectfully.

    And with all do respect – I’ve seen quite a few Amish kids get into trouble too. Kids are kids – thats the bottom line….

    Besides – who has stress when you have the government paying you money just because you promise not to sell it to a land developer.

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    Comment on Interview Excerpt: An Amish builder on working moms, mortgages, and making car payments (January 23rd, 2008 at 18:14)

    Excellent post. We have seen a number of people just starting to get the picture and going to smaller homes and quieter lives….it just took awhile:-)

  • Michelle and CCG, I am with you. I live in a one-room apartment with kitchen in the center of Krakow. Total area is right about 36 square meters. Tiny compared to what we’re used to in the States. But it’s all I really need and I am quite happy with it.

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    Comment on Amish kids behave differently around non-Amish? (January 24th, 2008 at 06:09)

    Amish kids behave differently around non-Amish?

    Dave, I appreciate the point. Kids are kids. You are definitely correct. But I would say hands down the average Amish kids is worlds more well-behaved than the average English kid. I’ve seen it umpteen times. They’re definitely not perfect, but just very respectful. At least when outsiders are around. Perhaps they morph into little beasts of hell when I leave, but I doubt it.

    I assume you are referring to the Lancaster farm preservation programs. I wonder, does that fuel a lot of local resentment towards the Amish? I don’t know the exact criteria offhand to qualify, but I guess it doesn’t only apply to Amish farms after all, since the majority of Lancaster farms I believe are non-Amish owned, and I suppose some of those would be eligible as well?

  • Everybody is a critic, but I think it’s inappropriate for the Amish to take a swipe at the non-Amish. Doesn’t their faith demand of them to be like “strangers in a foreign land”? Isn’t the Amish interpretation of the separate and apart dictum a critique in it’s self? So when they act out this double jeopardy scenario, what happens to the integrity of their original commitment to be Amish? What about the irony of their participation in the privileges of a free and open society, when their own culture doesn’t condone the kind of criticism from within, that they’re directing at the non-Amish?

    Their partisan involvement in the 04 election evoked another double jeopardy scenario. Voting wasn’t the problem. Allowing themselves to become partisan props was the culprit. My concern is that there isn’t any push back from the non-Amish, why aren’t they held accountable? If you would’ve confronted the Amish carpenter on the spot about the issues I raised and reported on the conversation that followed, not only would you’ve had a story, you would’ve done the Amish and the non-Amish a service.

  • Why is he building high end homes if he thinks it’s so terrible? (who is the money gruber?

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    Comment on Are Amish greedy "money grubbers?" (January 27th, 2008 at 02:50)

    Are Amish greedy "money grubbers?"

    easy, this is an interesting topic and you raise some interesting issues.

    Here’s my take on at least one or two of the issues you’ve raised:

    As you probably know, lots of Amish are involved in industries and in producing things that we would think that they themselves would not be likely to be involved with, much less purchase for personal use–recreational vehicles in N. Indiana, elaborate high-end furniture in multiple locations, fancy homes in this gentleman’s case(though there are exceptions to the rule in all of these examples and Amish in places do buy and use these things). Also tourist knickknacks in Lancaster and everywhere else, but especially Lancaster.

    If we’re going to call him a money grubber, we’re going to have to call a lot of Amish money grubbers. And a lot of non-Amish money grubbers. Or we could call it participating in a capitalist system. With its flaws.

    All of the Amish could choose let’s say, ‘ethically pure’ occupations, whatever those may be, where what they produce has no chance of contributing to compromising someone else’s style of life or having any chance of going against any ideal or belief they may profess.

    But if we start to play that game, we can take it any way we want. If I’m a restaurant owner, and people come into my restaurant, eat too much and die of heart disease at some point, do I have a right to criticize that behavior of over-eating? Or is that hypocrisy, since I own the restaurant?

    Consumers choose what they choose, and as long as you are not selling something inherently harmful (ie drugs) I don’t see any ethical problem. You might not like what they choose, you might not choose the same thing, but that’s free-market capitalism.

    This guy builds big houses–so you see that as contributing to the problem he mentions.

    As far as this fellow goes, I wonder did it start out that way when this guy got into the business nearly 20 years ago? Or is the ridiculously big house more a trend of the last 5 to 10 years? In any case that probably doesn’t matter, as though you can tell he enjoys the craft of what he does I doubt he always feels super excited about what his customers choose, and you can kind of get that tone from listening to the whole conversation. But, it’s not like he’s selling heroin. And just by the way he talks I can say with confidence he doesn’t push customers into buying more than they should. I like his sales approach–he leaves the decision to them. He is providing a service and they can choose to take it or not. And perhaps now that the US has had some mortgage difficulties people may return to building more reasonable homes (and perhaps that’s a fantasy). But I doubt this fellow would be sad if the trend started to go that way again.

    In any case I don’t feel compelled to wage any sort of crusade to try to affect change among the Amish. It’s not my place to do that. Perhaps others have more of a desire for that. I will point out things I don’t agree with, but I accept them for what they are. But if anyone wants to make reasonable measured criticisms of the Amish on this blog, I welcome that as promoting good discussion.

    And I would repeat, as I pointed out at the beginning of my post, many of the Amish I’ve been around realize they are not perfect.

    But true, you are right that you cannot really compare it to a totally free discourse where any and all self-criticisms are aired openly whenever one wants. It happens more under the radar when it does happen.

    Also the fact that they are in a priveleged position in our society is one that I’ve written about before and that the Amish themselves generally realize and are grateful for.

    And again, I mention my eternal qualifier that there are of course different approaches and different attitudes among this quite diverse group.

    And in practice, being ‘strangers in a foreign land’, ‘in the world but not of the world’, or whatever we want to call it, is an ideal today’s business-oriented Amish are having a harder time holding to. The small business situation is a compromise which, in a lot of cases, allows something similar to the traditional farm family environment, with dad at home, but with the compromise of having to open up to the outside more, ie dealing with English customers.

    Losing the ability to be ‘strangers in a foreign land’ is an issue Kraybill has raised in his books as well, and I think one that numerous Amish are aware of. But because of economic realities in the places they live in, among other reasons, they have chosen small businesses in greater and greater numbers over the past few decades.

  • It’s not about calling him a money grubber. We demean the Amish if we allow them to advance a bogus arguement, especially in the area of morality and life style. The Amish of all people shouldn’t claim innocent bystander status to the influences of capitalism. If he’s benifiting from the construction of a high end home, shouldn’t he cast the beam out his own eye first?
    His comments may have provided a unique peek at ourselves through his eyes, but if we only give his comments value because he’s Amish and don’t extend the same rational critique to them that we would to any other self assesment, we risk turning him into a buffoon that we use for our amusement. There is an antidote to this; treat them like they’re one of us. If they say somthing that doesn’t make sense, call them on it, make them explain and defend they’re proposition.
    The movie “Being There” illustrates the issue I’m trying to describe. I’m not suggesting that none of the Amish have any street smarts, some of them do. But the street wise Amish person has to hid from both worlds, the Amish and the non-Amish. This isolation weakens the intellectual developement and handicaps the broader intuiton one would normally expect, making it doubly important to engage them and their subject in a forthright manner.
    You point out that the Amish know they’re not perfect. There’s a big difference between acknowledging ones humanity and engaging the collective intellectual acumen of a people for the sake of self and collective determination.

    “When the idea comes up in conversation that the Amish are getting something right—for example, by the way that they live or the values they profess and adhere to–they are usually quick to deflect attention, reminding that ‘human nature is universal’, or that ‘we’re human too.’ They have their own problems and many seem to realize it.”

    Isn’t this just another way of saying, let’s not get to specific, or we might actually have to address somthing?
    Church rules demand that they don’t discuss church issues with outsiders. Isn’t that convenient? It certainly gets complicated, now that (per your interview) they’re willing to talk specifics about the non-Amish.

  • “If I’m a restaurant owner, and people come into my restaurant, eat too much and die of heart disease at some point, do I have a right to criticize that behavior of over-eating? Or is that hypocrisy, since I own the restaurant?”

    IMO As a restaurant owner you would have enormous influence on portion size, perportion ratio, type of oil used to cook, all you can eat specials, the list could probably go far beyond my awareness. But clearly the choices you make in your business would profoundly influence your clientele. I suspect the same could apply to a builder.
    Ie; his actions could speak louder than his words

  • “But what should he do? Cap the size of the homes he builds?”

    Well I guess our views may differ. Based on the fact that 90% of the worlds population is sheltered by a lesser quality structure than the typical backyard utility shed found in lancaster, I don’t see the Amish guy as having any moral standing at all. But that’s a another subject.

    It would make it more fun for me if you quoted Kraybill and Nolt instead of just refering to their works. Not complaining, Just saying.

    where does the pursuit of self and collective determination you bring up ultimately lead to.

    What are you arguing for here?

    Lecture his customers on what he sees is the proper familial setup? Refuse people because he somehow ‘knows better’ than they do what’s good for them and their particular financial situation? That in my opinion would be a much more arrogant approach to take.

    and here?

    don’t blame the guy one bit for building big houses. It’s a free country; there is nothing inherently evil with a big house.

    or here?

    why should he refuse clients because there just may be a chance they’ve overdrawn themselves? What right would he have to make that call? And on what individual basis? Should he request their financial records and review them himself?

    You seem to be advocating for a certain kind of freedom. Does your approval of free will only apply to certain areas of life? Would you be willing to examine the Amish faith and lifestyle through your ideas about freedom prism? And if you did could you be objective?

    The point I want to make is, your writing will have an effect on the Amish. You think Kraybill is objective and even handed, but his writing effects the Amish too. The issue is, what is the effect yours and Kraybills writing has? I Propose that its’ effect on the Amish is one that is a direct violation of the values that you advocate for above, freedom and self determination.

    Am I right? I don’t know for sure. I’ve a son who’s a budding jounalist in his sophomore year in college. Maybe after he has won a couple pulitzers he’ll have to spank some Amish scholar butt.

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    Comment on Amish building large homes for rich English customers (January 27th, 2008 at 13:12)

    Amish building large homes for rich English customers

    easy, I hear you on calling people on things we don’t agree with, Amish or non-Amish alike. But in this case I happen to agree with the opinions he expressed. That’s probably why I stuck them on the blog. Not everyone has to agree, of course.

    But I don’t find any reason to point the finger at this builder.

    Basically, he is continuing in the career he chose to enter into many years ago, and finds that he wouldn’t make the same lifestyle decisions as some of his clients would, especially those of some of his more recent clients. But what should he do? Cap the size of the homes he builds? Refuse to build for English people, or for people who don’t follow his lifestyle exactly? Lecture his customers on what he sees is the proper familial setup? Refuse people because he somehow ‘knows better’ than they do what’s good for them and their particular financial situation? That in my opinion would be a much more arrogant approach to take.

    I think that especially in today’s society we have gotten used to assigning blame back down the line to the point where individual responsibility is negated. ie, ‘it’s McDonald’s fault I’m fat’
    ‘It’s the credit card company’s fault I’m broke’.

    I don’t blame the guy one bit for building big houses. It’s a free country; there is nothing inherently evil with a big house. I don’t have any reason to think he pushes people to buy the biggest, fanciest possible, to max themselves out. In fact, if he does feel as strongly as it seems he does about people building reasonably-sized places, there’s a good chance that that shines through when he is advising clients on what to do. If he’s sharp, and he is pretty sharp, he might even realize that it may even be to his benefit as well to promote a less expensive project, as I understand that in cost overruns, which apparently happen frequently enough (though I must admit I don’t know the construction field well) he may be less likely to get his money on time, as the last guy on the totem pole, as was explained to me recently.

    I also see him as a builder with about 10 employees with families to support. And no, they won’t go broke and starve if he turns down some jobs, but why should he refuse clients because there just may be a chance they’ve overdrawn themselves? What right would he have to make that call? And on what individual basis? Should he request their financial records and review them himself?

    Yes, he builds ’em, but he doesn’t have to love what they do with ’em. Eventually people will wise up, sooner than later, and not overextend themselves so much. I think he can criticize the way things are and I think that’s a better approach than say, folding up the business, putting his people out of work, and switching out of a career he really enjoys for the fact that consumers out there make irrational spending decisions (surprise), and he doesn’t totally agree with those irrational decisions or their lifestyle decisions personally.

    And I’m not sure specifically what bogus arguments you are talking about, and I’m not exactly sure what you mean by the innocent bystander status comment. I think most Amish realize that opening up to the outside world has had consequences on their own lifestyle, and in some situations has even had a compromising influence on the ideals they profess. Kraybill and Nolt nail that point in Amish Enterprise.

    Also, you’ve lost me on collective determination. You may be cramming more points into one post than I can handle!

    It’s true that maybe some Amish refuse self-criticism, but certainly not all Amish. And I say if they so choose, let them keep church matters to themselves, as long as they haven’t broken any laws. I wouldn’t want anyone poking too deep my confessional or my private place of worship.

    At the same time, I actually have had numerous Amish explain to me in an anonymous manner pressing issues in their particular church or in other churches, and have heard a healthy share of criticism of the behavior of others in their communities (again in an anonymous manner), as well as action taken against offending behaviors, and I’m thinking right now of both PA and OH, including, for example, Bishops that had overstepped the bounds of the position.

    So I can say that from my own experience I think there are numbers of Amish that do generally examine their collective lifestyle and deal frankly with issues that need to be addressed. But I would grant you that that’s probably not the case across the board…in any case I don’t understand the end point you are driving at, where does the pursuit of self and collective determination you bring up ultimately lead to…in other words I would just ask, out of pure curiosity, what would your ideal Old Order Amish church/churchmember look like? Would you/What would you change about what they do, believe, practice?

    Or is your main beef with the way we outsiders view them and treat them?

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    crunchymamamaine
    Comment on Interview Excerpt: An Amish builder on working moms, mortgages, and making car payments (February 22nd, 2008 at 08:47)

    Although I could never agree with the Amish prohibition against playing musical instruments, as I believe music is an important part of humanity as it has seen to be across cultures the world over, I can agree that “more is better” as an idea, has seen its heyday and is now being recognized as folly.

    The utopian vision of the two-income household, wherein the woman could then afford to hire someone else to take up her erstwhile homemaking activities, has proven false. Making two incomes the standard did not double each household’s prosperity; adding energy to a system merely changes the system to then absorb, and in the future require, that energy to maintain equilibrium. In short, you end up running twice as fast to stay in place. Certainly, two incomes became worth what one income used to be when that was the standard, instead of doubling everyone’s standard of living. And the idea that the value of replacing homemaking activities by outsourcing them was a fair trade was also false: we are seeing that the convenience foods, frozen dinners, and processed foods do not compare nutritionally or in taste with home-cooked meals made from whole ingredients.

    If the Amish gentleman espoused the view that it is silly to run so hard in circles after more money in order to spend more money on things not needed, and in return have little or no time left to invest in one’s life and family, I heartily agree.

  • “If the Amish gentleman espoused the view that it is silly to run so hard in circles after more money in order to spend more money on things not needed, and in return have little or no time left to invest in one’s life and family, I heartily agree.”

    It sounds good, logical, even sage. But I happen to know that the rat race isn’t uniquely a non-Amish activity.
    My experience suggests that an Amish entrepreneur who builds high end homes, is a likely candidate for being guilty of not having enough time for family. Better yet, let’s ask the wives of his employees whether their husbands have enough time for family.
    My experience as an employee of Amish owned businesses wasn’t all sweetness and light. How’s, out the door before six AM and getting home after six PM with almost no autonomy to leave work early for special occasions because, ahem (you’re miles from home and you don’t drive a car). Add to that, the fundness for Amish employers to use hatchet men as enforcers of a certain standard of performance and to demand conformity to their group norms, and it may not be unreasonable to require more specifics from this guy before accepting his remarks as somthing of value.

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