Find out what happened in this podcast episode : https://bit.ly/31HGmQe
Once upon a time in the 19th century, there lived a man named Harold. At that time, polygamy was rather common. So, Harold had two wives, Josephine and Priscilla.
Josephine, a successful businesswoman, met Harold through work. Harold had always wanted many children. But, sadly, Josephine had fertility issues that strained their relationship. After long discussions, she agreed for Harold to marry a second time.
Priscilla was introduced to Harold through a friend. She was young and beautiful, with a sense of humor that Harold admired. Both women had their strengths and Harold loved them equally for who they were.
The three of them had an agreement. As Harold’s first wife, Josephine had the right to make all decisions regarding the family. Priscilla, as the second wife, had to help with the house chores.
At first, as they were adjusting to this new lifestyle, family life was peaceful and harmonious. They got along well with each other.
One month after they all moved in together, it was Josephine’s 35th birthday. Harold bought her a golden necklace to celebrate; but Priscilla became jealous and said to Harold, “That’s sweet. But I prefer a diamond necklace. Will you promise to get me one for my birthday?”
Before Harold could reply, Josephine said, “Priscilla, there’s no need to talk about your birthday right now. It’s MY birthday, so I deserve the attention today!” Josephine grabbed Harold’s arm and continued, “Harold, remember our deal when you took a second wife. I only agreed if I could be in charge of all the decisions in this household.”
“Yes, I remember our agreement,” Harold replied.
Priscilla was very unhappy but decided not to push further as it was Josephine’s birthday. From that day on, both wives would constantly compete for Harold’s attention. Over time, Harold thought, “If only they could see that I love them both equally. All I wish for is some peace and quiet in this house.”
The rift between Josephine and Priscilla worsened when Priscilla became pregnant. One evening, Priscilla boasted to Josephine, “When I give birth to my child, Harold will be thrilled, and he’ll care more for me than you! How do you feel about that?”
Angry, Josephine replied, “That doesn’t bother me at all! Even if you have a child, I’m still in charge. Remember, your child will have to obey me and follow my rules.”
Priscilla cried out, “Harold...this is unfair! Why should she be in charge of MY children?!?”
“All right, stop arguing! I can’t take this anymore!” Harold said with a firm voice.
Seeing how his two wives fought for his attention, he suggested, “To make sure you both equally receive my attention, from now on, the three of us will share the same bed. Josephine, you will sleep on my right, and Priscilla, you will sleep on my left. Is this fair enough?”
“Yes, I’m okay with this rule, but only if you don’t toss and turn,” Josephine replied.
“I guess if you’re in the middle, then that’s fair,” Priscilla replied.
With this new arrangement, Josephine and Priscilla had fewer arguments in getting Harold’s attention. Harold seemed to have found the peace and quiet he wished for.
One night, a violent storm brought torrential rain. After three days of non-stop rain, the roof of the house began to leak. As the house was rather old and in need of repairs, mud began to seep into the house along with the rain. Harold, sleeping in the middle, woke up in the middle of the night with his face drenched in muddy water. Feeling uncomfortable, he turned to his right, thinking to ask Josephine to help him. But his movement woke Priscilla. She whispered to him, “Why is Josephine getting your attention?”
Harold turned to Priscilla and tried to explain, “The rain...and the mud…” But before he could finish, Josephine was now awake and said, “I thought you agreed not to toss and turn. Why are you now facing Priscilla and not me?”
Unable to make both Priscilla and Josephine happy, Harold had no choice but to keep sleeping on his back, meaning that the muddy water continued to drip into his eyes the whole night. This caused a severe infection. With the risk of long-term damage to his vision, Harold underwent treatment.
It was only then that both Josephine and Priscilla realized their constant bickering for Harold’s attention had caused their husband’s eye infection.
Feeling contrite, Josephine said, “Oh my dear husband, I’m so sorry. I should have tried to see things from your perspective. I had no idea how difficult it was for you to keep both Priscilla and me happy.”
“Yes, I was being so childish, demanding the same attention from you all the time. Please forgive me,” Priscilla said.
Embracing both his wives, Harold said, “I love you both very much and I just wish for us to live in harmony and peace. If it means being blind for you both to stop bickering, I am willing to trade my eyesight for it.”
Both Josephine and Priscilla shook their heads and said, “No, please don’t. Harold, we love you very much.” Josephine then said to Priscilla, “I’m so sorry.” They embraced each other and made peace.
This story highlights a dilemma faced by many. Having two wives seemed like a blessing for Harold, but it created disharmony in his household.
Just like when you bump into a friend when shopping. You may invite them to your house for tea. But when you meet another friend, you may choose to go to a cafe with them instead. Sometimes, you greet a friend with “hello,” but greet other friends with “good morning.” This illustrates that we can be flexible when we encounter identical situations with different people. There is no need to be rigid when considering how to be fair towards others.
True wisdom is to conduct ourselves and approach situations with skillful and expedient means. Being strictly bound by conventions is not a true act of fairness. For example, if a friend enjoys eating rice and vegetables, then we would cook them a nice meal featuring rice and vegetables. But if another friend enjoys eating noodles, then we would be inclined to cook them a bowl of noodles instead.
Everyone has their needs and strengths. We are all unique. Even animals have their differences. For example, cows and horses eat grass, but we cannot expect dogs and pigs to eat grass as well. Some animals are carnivores and others omnivores, each has their diet.
We should not always seek to please everyone in everything we do, nor should we be reluctant to change or be flexible. Every situation is different and we should act according to the causes and conditions of that particular situation, at that particular moment. Being flexible requires true wisdom and applying expedient means is true fairness.
Just as Venerable Master Hsing Yun says,
To act according to causes and conditions means to act in the interests of others.
To act according to principles means to choose what is right and stick to it, not just adhering to old rules.