(Dedicated to all my friends who are struggling to build a happy human relationship)
I have had the opportunities to use the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph to illustrate the fact that we all need to listen to each other and to give each other a benefit of the doubt to some few individuals and now I need to share my reflection to a wider audience. This is because from the Joseph lesson there is always another side of the story.
Many potentially beautiful and fruitful relationships, many marriages, many friendships and comradeships have crumbled simply because of the pride of not listening to the other, not giving the other party the opportunity to express himself or herself and then not trusting the other party’s side or version of the story.
While it is true that some stories could be constructed and cooked to favour one’s point of view, this doesn’t negate the reality that we still need to listen to that other side of the story. Even the Old Testament people were wise when they legislated that two witnesses are needed to sustain a charge and to this day modern lawsuits need multiple witnesses to sustain a charge.
Now, Joseph got betrothed to Mary, even while they can’t live together they were legally married. They had committed to each other in love and fidelity. Shortly before the end of the betrothal period according to Jewish custom, Joseph found out that Mary is with Child. Obviously, there could be only one explanation to such a pregnancy, Mary is seeing someone else. And so, Joseph on the evidence of this one possible explanation (or side of the story) decides to send Mary home quietly without putting her to shame. The evangelist Matthew explains that Joseph was a just man. Obviously, he was because if he was not, he wouldn’t waste time in alerting his kinsmen and neighbours and as well as invoke the full weight of the law which was stoning her to death for such an abominable act of adultery. But then as he was contemplating on how to do this, an Angel of the Lord in a dream revealed to him the other side of the story – Mary´s pregnancy is divinely willed. Joseph listened and gave his cooperation. This is what we celebrate every Christmas, the incarnation. (Cf. Matthew 1:18-23).
Listening to the other side of the story is very important and crucial in every form of human relationship. Human beings are susceptible to making rash judgements about others and condemning them even without listening to the other side of the story. Yes, you saw him or her with another person or someone else told you about him or her, you saw them in the same car, in the same social event, you even caught them “red handed.” Even while that is bad enough, there could still be another side of the coin or script. What if it was a coincidence, what if it was a set-up, what if there was a spell or charms “the handwork of the devil”, what if it was a mere casual outing with no strings attached, the list could be endless, and all these are humanly excusable only if we are patient enough to listen to that other side of the story. Yes, he or she didn’t pick up your call and took long to return the call, and you have already drawn your conclusion, she or he didn’t reply your messages as quickly as you expected, and you drew your conclusion; he or she came back late at night; you drop by at the office and you didn’t find him or her etc. These are just few of the common episodes which explode into problems in relationships. For me, these issues could have been resolved if we are able to apply the Joseph lesson, that there is always another side of the story.
There is nothing as beautiful in a relationship than the value of listening to each other. At the table of discussion which involves talking and listening many issues will be resolved. There can be no magic about this, even while you have been married or been friends for a very long time, questions of misunderstandings will still come up, new problems will always erupt, and new challenges will resurface. Only by cultivating this Joseph lesson of listening to each other´s version could problems be amicably resolved.
Listening to the other side of the story obviously involves having a forgiving heart. There may well be a case whereby the other admits that the story is correct and true, and he or she tries to give some reasons for the story that played out and then ended up with some profound notes of deep-seated apology. Listening to the other side of the story means that one is able to forgive. Even without listening to Mary´s own side of the story, Joseph had already resolved to send her away secretly and sparing her the publicity (shame) as well as the full weight of the law. This is already a prefigured forgiveness. Without forgiveness I don’t see any human relationship standing the tides and waves of days, weeks, months and years because we are all full of mistakes.
Listening and forgiveness go together. They are the basic ingredients that are needed in every human relationship. When these are lacking or insufficient, man´s pride and ego blossom and have the field of play. Let us not forget that human relationship is not an option of convenience, but a basic human necessity borne out of natural law. As the saying goes, “No man is an island.”
For those still waiting for the perfect relationship let me disappoint you by saying that such a thing does not exist. Maybe in the Platonic Utopic world of forms Yes but in this present world NO. If no man or woman is perfect, then a perfect human relationship just like a perfect human society do not exist. Relationship become beautiful when all the parties can seat down together at the conference table from where they listen to each other´s sides of the story and forgive each other where there is injury.
Human Relationships and friendships are not built once and for all and not at all in a day. It is always a work in progress. Let us learn to give a listening ear, let us learn the Joseph lesson and together we can make the world a better place to live in.
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