Down on the Farm: Lessons from the Amish
In August 1974, after resigning his presidency in disgrace, Richard Nixon met with the White House staff.
In his darkest hour, Nixon gave the most masterful and human speech of his career, a heartfelt and spontaneous exhortation to remember the lessons he had forgotten.
"Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty," Nixon said.
"Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them," he added.
"Then, you destroy yourself."
Nixon remembered the lessons taught him by his Quaker mother too late. He had already destroyed himself.
Nixon might have mentioned his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln. Although Lincoln waged the most brutal war in American history, he steadfastly refused to hate his enemies.
Lincoln's refusal to hate infuriated even his supporters.
But Lincoln knew the deep truth Nixon learned too late: By hating back, you only destroy yourself.
That difficult lesson hit home this week in the small town.
In an apparent act of malice, the barn of a local Amish farm family was burned to the ground. Some livestock perished in the blaze. The barn-burning followed several incidents of harassment.
Immediately, many of us felt indignation and rage. Who would do this? How can we find them?
While attempting to fall asleep, I confess that revenge fantasies bounced around my head.
If I caught those guys, I thought, I would take my .286 hunting rifle, make sure the clip was full and shoot out some tires and maybe a radiator.
I would subdue the perpetrators, tie them to an oak tree and let the mosquitoes eat them for a day or two until they begged me to call law enforcement.
Trouble is, such a response would not meet with the approval of the Amish community, not even the family that lost the barn.
A local friend visited the farmer affected as soon as he found out about the hideous act of hatred. He wanted to help, but he also wanted to offer some hometown justice.
On that count, he was rebuffed.
My friend writes: "I am at a loss of words at the graciousness and humility displayed by a man who was violated in a way that would have me seeking blood."
The Amish farmer wasn't interested in revenge or even justice.
"I just feel bad for the guy," the farmer said. "That's no way to live."
The shooting at an Amish school in Pennsylvania five years ago immediately came to mind. A deranged gunman killed five children before shooting himself.
One Amish elder admonished his fellow believers: "We must not think evil of this man."
"This man has a mother and a wife and a soul," said another.
The shooter's wife was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral for the children. She was treated with a compassion and kindness that floored her.
She later wrote the Amish, "Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you."
The lesson taught by the Amish, and by Richard Nixon, is priceless and timeless: When hated by others, you don't lose until you hate back. Then you destroy yourself.
We want to restore our pride in our culture, our sense that we are good people, our sense that our tribe is hospitable and decent.
But to get there, we dream of shooting out tires and tying people to oak trees, acts which would only drag us down to the level of the perpetrators.
It may be that the only appropriate response is learn from the simple but profound wisdom of those who suffered the wrong.