I have been playing Guitar Hero nonstop for approximately the past five hours, and therefore what follows is a somewhat brainy entry in order to keep the contents of my head from turning into mush.
A few months ago Mike's hometown of Nappanee, Indiana was hit by an EF3 tornado that destroyed a very large portion of its homes and businesses. After the tornado, it took something like three weeks before Mike and I went to Nappanee again. We had heard about the damage and seen images in the news, and we were expecting to see piles of debris and wreckage. While we did see a few slightly damaged houses, what we mostly saw were brand new buildings that had been freshly rebuilt upon their standing foundations. This was only three weeks after disaster struck. Mike's dad gave us a little tour of the tornado's path, and from what we could tell at least 75% of what had been damaged was already completely fixed.
Nappanee is a town of made up of mostly middle and lower-middle class families. A third of the population works in RV manufacturing. The rest of the residents generally work in other factories or make their livings off of their farms. Also, the town was denied any emergency funding from the government. So how could this reconstruction be?
The answer: Amish people.
A very large portion of Nappanee's residents are Amish, and their organization of the reconstruction effort began first thing in the morning after the tornado hit. A few people handled the organization of volunteers and distributed work, and everyone else just dug right in. And it wasn't just the Amish people from Nappanee who helped; Amish people came in from Ohio and even as far as Pennsylvania to assist their brothers in need. (How did they get there? I have no idea. They can travel in cars as long as they don't drive them, so I guess they can probably ride on airplanes, too.)
Additionally, the Amish did not solely offer their services to other Amish. They gave themselves up to anyone in the community who needed help, Amish or not. Mike has an aunt and uncle whose home was destroyed, and the Amish people came in and just built everything right back up again in a matter of days. Mike's uncle attempted to offer some financial gratitude to the Amish man who had come from out of town and who had been the leader involved in the reconstruction of his home. The Amish man refused. His reasoning?
"All we ask is that if it happens to us, you do the same thing for us that we have done for you."
Now, anyone who hears this story thinks, "Wow. If only everyone else were so kind, so generous, so thoughtful, so selfless. If only the general population had such a work ethic, such compassion and such genuine morality." And I think that conservative people especially admire this act from the Amish community, because the Amish people are simple, moral, conservative people from whom we in the technological world like to find inspiration.
So this is my question. How can we, as modern day, non-Amish Americans really be a more kind, generous, thoughtful and selfless nation? How can we build our ethics and our compassion and our morality? How can we learn from the Amish? Not as individuals, but as a community?
As children we are taught to take turns, to share, and to treat others as we would want to be treated. These are basic principles that few people would deny are essential to being a kind, compassionate, moral person, whether a child or adult. We apply these principles to our personal lives, but when it comes to our country, our government and our communities, we start hearing things about "no free rides" and about how we mustn't become a welfare state. We act like sharing is the same thing as throwing pearls to swine, and we act like compassion is the same thing as encouraging flaws. And we sadly blame the deprived for our social undoings, as though there is some evil inner malice that controls all the underprivileged citizens of our country. What we teach our children, what we challenge ourselves with spiritually, what we know is right in any other context...it all suddenly no longer applies.
I'm sure everyone has heard the U.S.A. compared to foreign governments of a socialist nature. But have you ever heard it compared to the Amish community? We like to admire their simplicity, their goodness, and their laid back lifestyle. But do you ever wonder what community structures allow them to live the way they do?
Amish people do not have health insurance, but they do accept modern medicine. If someone gets injured or sick and their family is unable to pay for it themselves, they turn to their community. Members of the community contribute as they are able, and the medical care is paid for.
Amish people also don't pay social security taxes, and they do not collect unemployment, welfare, social security or Medicare benefits. This is not because they think the government shouldn't help people; it's because they don't think of the United States as their government. They see participation in such a system as a betrayal to their self-sufficiency. When social security was introduced, the Amish thought it unnecessary because they would never turn to American government for their financial needs. They turn to their own "government," not for pennies and scraps, but for absolutely everything they need in order to gain financial stability in a difficult time.
In virtually every aspect of Amish life, these principles of compassion, empathy, generosity and selflessness are central. When they run their community this way, it is admirable. When we try to solve our country's problems in much the same way, it is degraded and thought despicable.
What is the matter with us?