Boxers or Briefs? Aaron Miller on choice in Amish society (part two)
In this final installment, Aaron Miller continues his discussion of choice in Amish society:
Let me list some choices that I and other Amish people make in their daily lives.
One of the first financial lessons I teach my boys goes like this.
When we are about to attend a social function or community event such as an auction or local farm show or the thresherman reunion or before we take a trip, say to Washington D.C., I hand the boys a twenty dollar bill and tell them, this is your allowance for any extra food or souvenirs they want to buy. Anything they don’t spend they are allowed to put in their piggy bank for savings. Believe me this stimulates wise spending choices.
When turning 16 the choice of which crowd to associate with is our boys’ choice to make. With advice generally being given only if they ask. This however varies some from parent to parent, but that is our policy.
With their choice of jobs we provide some guidance and practical help such as calling prospective employers if they so desire, although I encourage the boys to do so for themselves. I also encourage them to do something they enjoy and then become good at it.
A rewarding vocation is a huge plus.
Choice of jobs is something I make from time to time as well. The decision to buy a booth at a farmers market and begin a sideline business was a major one made in conjunction with all of the family and only with their support will it continue.
When I made the choice to go ask Sweet Mary for a date and she said yes we made a quite consequential and very rewarding choice, for it lead to the choice of marriage and beginning a family–something I would not trade for any amount of wealth or status.
The choice to be baptized in the Amish church is one I do not regret. For I feel very strongly that it is God’s plan for my life. I did not make my choice on a consideration of which is better or superior, the Amish life or another one. Rather living in harmony with God’s plan makes life so much easier and it feels natural.
Buying a home was a major choice. How big? How many acres? What price range? Do we buy acreage and build one or do we buy an existing one? Do we buy at public auction or private and so on. I could go on and on about myriad banal choices we make on a daily basis. Pepsi or Coke, Vanilla or Butter Pecan, Boxers or Briefs, you get the idea.
Granted for the Amish person the spheres of influence and dimensions and role equations of family, peers, society, and self are arranged a bit differently than those of a typical American. Personal desire is not the sole or supreme criteria. Making good choices remains a necessity for happy living.
I was inspired and in complete agreement with the words of Chuck Colson in his book How Now Shall We Live?, when he said:
“Americans have achieved what modernism presented as life’s great shining purpose: individual autonomy, the right to do as one chooses. Yet this has not produced the promised freedom. Instead it has led to the loss of community and civility, to kids shooting kids in schoolyards, to citizens huddling in gated communities for protection. We have discovered that we cannot live with the chaos that inevitably results from choice divorced from morality.”
I agree with Aaron’s approach to teaching children how to manage money. Similar to what he says they do, from their earliest days we had two large binders with each of our children’s names on one and the label “College Account”. Anytime they earned any money they were allowed to keep half for their own use and they other half went into their respective college account. Of course we added to these accounts monthly, but the kids always knew that half of anything they earned would be held back for the future. When they graduated from high school both were given full control of their college accounts and told “Manage it wisely, BECAUSE THAT IS ALL THERE IS; WE WILL NOT BE PAYING ANY OF YOUR COLLEGE EXPENSES BEYOND WHAT THESE ACCOUNTS CAN BUY YOU”. Guess what? Both managed their accounts wisely, the oldest held onto some of it all the way through her master’s degree. Both also had part time jobs in college, the youngest usually working 2 part time jobs at a time. She is in another state working on a doctorate at a major university. The youngest is at a regional university completing his master’s degree and making plans to pursue a doctorate as well.
Not that education is the end all, be all for everyone. However, both plan on being university professors and PhD’s are essential to their future. Point is; mom and dad have not put a penny in this deal since either of them graduated from high school, and we didn’t break the bank doing it. The total we invested between the two accounts was less than half of what you pay for a monthly note on an average priced automobile, but we did it EVERY month for 18 years AND each of them knew it. When they started college they didn’t look to mom and dad for cash to pay the ticket, their “college account” savings and their earnings since then have paid their way.
Now if we could just teach a little fiscal responsibility to our Congress!
Oprah had a group of traditional Dominican nuns on her show. in some ways, they are very much like the Amish; they all live in community, they have a dress code, they devote their lives to being a living witness to Jesus, and if you don’t want to follow the rules of the order, you must leave. The one thing almost all the nuns, postulants and novices said, was that by having to deal with less choices, they felt more free to be fully human, more free to live up to their potential. Perhaps the Amish, in their way of life, have tapped into this as well.
As a Plain person, I can agree with what Aaron says. Soemtimes it is just easiest to let the community set the guidelines. It saves a lot of small choices having to be made, and certainly frees me from vain choices. (Although my “community” is more historic and crosses church lins, it is still a Plain community.) The community also guides me in making the big choices, such as marriage, type of vocation, how to use our money.Unlimited choice just leads to anxiety. Once we choose to follow Jesus, and choose to follow Him within a set community, we are free to be ourselves.We aren’t trying to buy who we are in a store.