Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wanted: Amish, Haruki Murakami and authenticity

By Nargiza Ryskulova, Kyrgyzstan (SUSI scholar 2014) 

An Amish community member
iPhones, selfies, duckfaces! We are the generation of people nurtured by the American dream and Black Friday sales. The dream is BIG: bigger homes, better jobs, better pays, more money, achievements, miles, bigger-sized meals, slimmer bodies, more calories burned, more points won, more technology dominated life. But there are always outsiders, hippies in 60s, down-shifters in 1990s, hipsters in 2000s and many others, who choose other things to pursue than the quantity of items and acknowledgments owned. One of them is authenticity. Being truthful to our own traditions, values and choices is perhaps one of the biggest challenges in generation of trend-setters and Instagram followers.

Authenticity in living:
Thanks to SUSI, about a week ago we visited Amish country and it was a chapter of 1Q84 come alive. We met with two Amish community members, and just like characters in Murakami’s novel both of them reasonably successful in their businesses, modest about their achievements and loyal to their community. They were intelligent and cracked wicked jokes. Most of all, they were authentic to their way of living, communities and families.
The Amish:
Exactly a year ago, I read Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84. The author means a lot to me. Not only, he makes me question “what if”, he teaches authenticity in every line in his every book. In his latest novel, he wrote about a secluded religious group, which choose to lead simpler lifestyle in modern Japan.

The two Amish community members we met

Just like Murakami’s characters, the Amish members were worth of admiration and their lifestyle choices were healthier than the US citizens. Their lifestyle was a reaction to over-consumerist American society.  They motivated their choices with desire to remain truthful to their traditions, to preserve values of simple living, family and grace. They also spoke about spiritual slavery of modern living and technology.

Seeing the Amish up close and speaking to them made me sympathetic for their choices and their struggle. To preserve their values and traditions, they have to ensure to protect their children from outside influence, they have to fit their lives in the shape of modernity, long distances, free market and very hectic work schedules by rejecting many opportunities and eliminating these opportunities for their youth.

To preserve their faith and their church they have to obey the rules strictly and exclude those, who don’t. They strive for authenticity in the most extreme ways , or rather in every possible way , starting from clothing to travelling. And like every thing extreme it might go wrong or right.
In Murakami’s 1Q84, things took unexpected turn, developing in the most outrageous ways, just as things usually unfold when a cause becomes more important than life. For the Amish in the USA the struggle is still ongoing and will continue, while the question about possibility of striving for authenticity without running away from life remains open.

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