Sunday, February 23, 2014

Consent

Last night, Marielle and I attended a gathering on marriage. We were one of the panelists asked to give a five minute talk on what we felt was an important aspect of marriage. It was quite the diverse group. It went from one woman had recently gotten engaged all the way up to a man who had been married nearly sixty years, who was widowed a couple of years ago. We were, of course, somewhere in the middle.

It was quite interesting to hear all these different perspectives about what was considered important, and those things that others felt were foundational to a good relationship. And we felt like we learned something, which is always a bonus.

So, what did we learn? Well, as you may know, one of the conditions for getting married in the Baha'i community is parental consent. While I had known of this law, having had to apply it in my own marriage, I never really considered the reasons for it.

We all know that it comes from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, but what exactly is said? "Parental consent", for example, is not actually there. So what does Baha'u'llah really say?
"It hath been laid down in the Bayan that marriage is dependent upon the consent of both parties. Desiring to establish love, unity and harmony amidst Our servants, We have conditioned it, once the couple's wish is known, upon the permission of their parents, lest enmity and rancour should arise amongst them. And in this We have yet other purposes. Thus hath Our commandment been ordained."

To start, He says that it is up to the two people involved, first and foremost. This is such an easy way to sidestep the whole "arranged marriage" issue. It is the couple's wish that is given precedence. Once they have made their intentions known, then it is up to the parents to give consent. And He gives a very good reason for it; "lest enmity and rancour should arise amongst them". How often have children married someone that their parents didn't like, only to have it cause division in the family?

But then He makes an interesting statement that I, for one, had never quite noticed. "And in this", He says, "We have yet other purposes."

Other purposes? I'm intrigued. What, I wondered, could some of those be?

And that is something that I learned last night, without ever being aware that there was even a question there. I just love it when that happens.

The first thing is that it ensures that the parents get to know the fiancee, and make sure that they are compatible. Aside from those very rare times when there are mental issues involved, or weird personal dynamics, the response is almost always in the positive. "Yes, we'd love for you two to get married." But I have also heard of a few, very rare times when the relationships in the family were healthy and the answer was still "no". It is especially at those times that the wisdom of the law has been made most manifest.

How?

Simple, really. There is probably nobody on the planet that knows someone better than their parents. They have watched their child with a close eye ever since their infancy. They have seen them grow, change and develop. And really, people are like arrows. If you see where they have come from, and where they are now, you can get a fairly good idea of where they are going. Now, if you combine that with the getting to know the affianced, good parents can probably make a wise decision.

And as a parent, let me tell you, if I had to say "no" to my son's request for permission, this would really weigh on me. It is not something that I would take lightly. Also, I would not neglect this law, either. I would really try to get to know his fiancee so that I could make the best decision I could.

To help in this regard, we have already begun talking about it. Maybe not so directly, but we have. He is already asking me questions about how to look at someone else's character. And yes, he is only 8 (to be 9 in a couple of days). (Let's all wish him a happy birthday now.) (1. 2. 3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SHOGHI!) (Thanks.)

Something that was suggested last night was the idea of asking for a "business plan". (I'm not sure what else to call it.) This entails asking questions about future plans, such as children, household finances, career paths, and so forth. In other words, have they considered these issues? Of course, plans change, and they may never actually do what is written down, but so what? At least you know they've considered it, and talked about these things.

Now this may all seem a bit bizarre in this day and age, but really, don't you think it will go a long way to curbing the divorce rate and ensuring happier marriages? As long as the parents are reasonable, and responsible, I think so.

Another thing that this laws ensures is a greater awareness of the importance of community. It helps the friends realize that they can call upon members of the community, or their family, to help them in a time of crisis. I think this is the case because getting to know someone's character is a bit of a community thing. And when you rely on the community for getting to know a prospective partner, you also rely on them for other things, too. (That's just my own experience, for what it's worth.) It also ensures the support of the family, who have gotten to know you both as a couple, which means you can more easily call on them in times of crisis, too. There are many cases of a newly married couple having a financial crisis and moving in with the parents until they can get on their own feet.

One other thing that this law does is prevent the "I told you so" syndrome. If the marriage does not work out, for some reason, then the parents cannot get on some sort of high horse and say "Well, I told you so." Because if they tried that, then the child would honestly say, "Yeah. You did. You said yes."

2 comments:

  1. Interesting thoughts. My husband and I have had to give consent three times and each time we learned better how to do it. We went from not knowing the man our daughter wanted to marry at all, or his family, to knowing the girls our sons wanted to wed but, in the first case, not knowing the family, and in the second case, meeting and talking with the parents and extended family before giving consent. Unfortunately, our daughter's marriage didn't last (the arrow analogy you used above explains it perfectly - the father was unfaithful to his wife and, hence, the son was, as well). Fortunately, our two daughters-in-law came from solid, happy families and are creating the same with our sons.

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  2. "The Business Plan" isn't bizarre at all! - it's what is done in pre-marital counseling so even if both parties aren't in total agreement they can learn how to think beyond the wedding and honeymoon, understand values and negotiate if appropriate.

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