Finding Middle Ground to Unite for More Impactful Social Change

A young mother and her two little girls, no more than four or five years old, emerged from the horse and carriage wearing all black except for the white scarves folded in a triangle shape to cover their heads. They walked briskly through the parking lot of the local market, probably cold from the long ride without heat. The outside temperature was barely forty degrees Fahrenheit. The two little girls rode in the shopping cart, one standing and one sitting. They picked up various items, mostly produce grown locally by the community. When it was time to pay, the cashier, donning a pastel-colored homemade dress and small white head covering, placed the items in as few bags as possible. One of the little girls reached over the side of the cart to effortlessly pick up the bags that seemed to weigh as much as her. Without a word, the three of them took their groceries outside, piled back into the carriage, and quickly rode off to be home before the surrounding farm roads became impassable due to darkness.

Not far from the market, a local farmer was preparing the soil on an organic farm with a horse-powered plow. Note: pictures purposely exclude recognizable faces because the Amish believe that “photographs in which they can be recognized violate the Biblical commandment, ‘Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image.’ They want to be remembered by the lives they lived and the examples they left, not by physical appearance.”

In contrast to the horse-drawn plow and the horse-drawn carriages, there were several gas-powered vehicles at the market. Many were black. In fact, all of the cars and trucks in the employee portion of the market were black. Though all of the clothing appeared to be hand-made, foot attire ranged from black leather shoes to modern sneakers. One woman with a head covering actually had a cell phone.

Is this an opportunity to negatively judge the community, or does this variation in acceptance of “outside world” concepts and products help us find middle ground?

Using the example of the Amish, it’s important to understand that the Amish community was birthed out of the 16th century Reformation in Europe. There are actually three communities that are part of what is known as the Anabaptist movement: Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren. “The three groups share the same basic values concerning the all-encompassing authority of the Bible, a philosophy of brotherhood and non-resistance and the importance of family and community.” Where they differ is in their acceptance and use of modern technology and practices. Some believe cars and electricity are “worldy,” while others take advantage of these conveniences. The Bible becomes the standard while each individual sub-community decides the level of tolerance for modern technology.

According to a recent census, the number of Amish people in America has doubled in the past 20 years and is expected to double again in the next two decades. Not only has the population increased, but the geographic reach as well. Traditionally, the Amish have occupied Pennsylvania and Ohio, but they are now moving into parts of New York, Missouri, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Though their acceptance of modern conveniences vary, their overall belief system is united–making them a powerful source of sustainable social change.

Why is this relevant?

There was an online community formed on Facebook that was specifically designed for organic gardeners. To join the group, members had to agree to promote only organic methods because “chemicals were bad.” There was no clear definition of a chemical. One of the members sent out a cry for help to save tomato plants with blite. Another member responded to use Epsom salt and powdered milk after pruning the effected leaves. Within minutes, the group moderator requested removal of the post because Epsom salt was not “natural.” It was classified as a chemical because it had to go through a man-made process to become Epsom salt. Should the Epsom salt user be vilified for gardening with “chemicals?” Would the concept of organic gardening be more widely accepted if there were defined levels of chemical tolerance? Where’s the middle ground?

With respect to diet, there is a plethora of conflicting and confusing information about what food is good or bad. And the standard for choosing good or bad varies significantly. Unlike the Amish who choose to let the Bible be the standard and then establish the tolerance level for “worldly” things, members of the vegan community may use several different standards for dietary choices. A simple Google search “vegan arguments for dairy” will provide a host of articles indicating animals still have to die for dairy products, cows are sacred, a plant-based diet uses only one-third of the land needed to produce a diet based on meat and dairy, and so on. Would more people move to a plant-based diet, which appears to have significant health and environment benefits, if there were defined levels of animal byproduct tolerance? Where’s the middle ground?

If we use less, buy less and waste less, will Corporate America go away? Not likely. There are many reasons why people are adopting anti-Big Business views. A Harvard Business Review article lists outsourcing, trust, greed, corruption, democracy and ingratitude as the primary reason for concern. But not all big companies are “bad,” and there are several non-profit organizations trying to steer big business in the direction of sustainability; the Network for Business Sustainability is one of them. Large companies have the firepower to drive far more social change than individuals alone. Would partnering with big business versus boycotting big business provide the platform for more widespread positive social change? Where’s the middle ground?

If the Amish community that existed since the 16th century can find middle ground on lifestyle, can the rest of America? Is it possible for extreme vegans, no-waste advocates, Wall Street activists, minimalists, and organic gardeners to find middle ground and unite for impactful sustainable social change? Share your thoughts below to support finding middle ground.

©, December 6, 2017


Anonymous. (2017, December 6). How the Amish Feel About Photographs. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from Discover Lancaster:
Anonymous. (2017, December 6). Pennsylvania Amish History & Beliefs. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from Discover Lancaster:
Anonymous. (2017, December 6). The PA Amish Lifestyle. Retrieved 6 2017, December, from Discover Lancaster:
Berg, N. (2012, August 1). Why the Amish Population is Exploding. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from CITYLAB:
Nussbaum, B. (2010, October 26). Is What’s Good for Corporate America Still Good for America? Retrieved December 6, 2017, from Harvard Business Review:
Schulz, E. (2017, February). Time is money–understanding US business culture. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from tcworld:




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