Meditation teacher Jack Kornfield tells a story to point out the importance of respect and dignity.1
As a part of the Arthurian legend, a knight of King Arthur’s round table, Sir Gawain, found himself in a forest, lost. In the moonlight he came to a clearing. In the clearing was a well. He took a drink from the well. A woman approached. She was one of the most unattractive women he had ever seen, a hag.
She approached him and said, “You drank from my well.” Sir Gawain apologized and promised to do anything in his power in repayment. This was not exactly the right sentiment to convey. In reply, the hag asked for the knight’s hand in marriage.
The knight was reluctant. He tried to bargain with her. “Is there anything else I can do that would satisfy you in place of this?” The hag thought for a while and replied, “There is one thing. If you can answer the question: ‘What is it that women really want’, I will release you from any obligation. I will give you one year to find the answer.”
Sir Gawain returned to the Kingdom and sent his helpers out in all directions to ask women of the kingdom, “What is it that you really want?” He had books full of reports of what the women of the Kingdom wanted. He found his way back to the clearing, one year later.
The hag was waiting. He handed her the books with reported statements of what women wanted. The hag looked through the books and stated, “I’m sorry, you do not have the right answer.”
Sir Gawain kept his promise. A great wedding occurred at the castle. After the wedding, in the bed chamber, his new wife asked him, “Would you not at least kiss me?” With reluctance, the knight kissed the hag. Immediately, she turned into a beautiful princess. She said, “I have been under a spell, and by the act of you kissing me, I have been half released from my spell.” The knight was thrilled.
The princess continued, “I must explain the spell to you. Now that you have kissed me, you have a choice. I can either be beautiful like this at night, but I will resume my hag form in the daytime. Or, if you choose, I can be beautiful during the day, but at night, I will resume my hag-like form. Which would you prefer?”
After a period of meditation Sir Gawain had a revelation. He turned to her and said “What I would like is whichever you would choose.” With that, a tear rolled down her cheek, she radiated joy and stated, “This is the answer that completely broke the spell. For you have answered the question of what it is that women really want.”
Kornfield explains that in ancient language what it is that women really want is their sovereignty. That is to say, respect, dignity — the capacity to be respected for who they are with their own life. When women are seen and treated in this way by others, this allows them to fulfill their nature.
In the context of family law, respect and dignity are necessary components in resolving conflict. For clients, it is a necessary expectation, that all persons in the system will be treated in this manner.