“No one is strong enough to bear his burdens alone.” Amish proverb
People need people. Everyone needs a community. Isn’t that what is behind the exploding success of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter? People seeking people. We have a longing to be needed and to belong to something bigger than ourselves. It’s just the way God wired us.
But how big?
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a chapter on the natural limits of human beings. He found people can only handle so much information at once. Even so many acquaintances at once. Once we pass a certain boundary, he wrote, we become overwhelmed.
Gladwell cited the work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who called that boundary our social channel capacity. Dunbar came up with an equation to determine that one hundred and fifty seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship.
Gladwell studied the Hutterites, who came out of the same tradition as the Amish and the Mennonites, and have lived in self-sufficient agricultural colonies in Europe and North America. For hundreds of years, whenever a Hutterite colony approached one hundred and fifty members, they split and started a new colony.
“At 150, the Hutterites believe, something happens–something indefinable but very real–that somehow changes the nature of community overnight. In smaller groups people are a lot closer. They’re knit together, which is very important if you want to be effective and successful at community life.” *
Community is an extremely important aspect of Amish life because the Amish’s religious values emphasize the importance of living together as a body of believers. It’s one of the reasons the Amish remain tied to a horse and buggy–it creates an invisible boundary. They need to live in close proximity to each other to main face-to-face contact with family, friends, and neighbors. Even the size of the church district is kept intentionally small so that all members are within one hour’s ride of each other. When a church district gets too large to accomodate members in a home (the Amish worship in homes), it will divide into two. Just an educated guess–but I suspect that would be around the 150 member mark.
Fascinating! Especially when you consider the Hutterites and the Amish didn’t get this idea from contemporary psychology. They’ve been following the 150 rule for centuries.
As you think about your social circle, how big is it? What are your thoughts about the 150 rule?
*(The Tipping Point, Page 181, Gladwell’s interview with Bill Gross, a leader of a Hutterite colony outside Spokane, Wa.)
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Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of Amish fiction and non-fiction, and a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. The Search won a 2012 Carol Award. The Waiting was a finalist for a 2011 Christy Award. The Choice was a finalist for a 2011 Carol Award. The Letters is a finalist for a Christian Retailing 2014 Best Award. Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World and Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life were both finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year (2010, 2011). Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, who was raised Plain in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. She travels back east a couple of times each year for research.
Suzanne’s latest release, The Imposter, is now available!