Curtain Closing on Threat and Reward Model

As the Middle East continues to erupt in protest, people are demanding "person equals person" as the foundation of their relationship with governments and each other.

libya protest


“The seed model is built on a simple equation: person equals person.”


by Seth Eisenberg

“Democracy is not just about an election,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said as Egyptian protesters flooded Tahrir Square demanding an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 32-year dictatorship.

“Democracy is about a civilization,” he added, warning that the first election can also be the last.

Throughout the Middle East, dictators, monarchs, theocrats and the people they have ruled are discovering the closing curtain on the threat and reward approach to nation building. From Tripoli to Cairo, Tehran and between, masses continue to rise up to demand a new model for their lives and nations.

The freedoms they yearn are at the heart of 21st century relationship skills, marriage education, and team building programs that help couples, families, and visionary enterprises create new possibilities from a foundation of harmony within themselves and their connection to each other.

While democracy in America began with defining the relationship between people and government, it’s taken a good part of two and a half centuries to evolve into new models for relationships between people themselves.

Game Over in EgyptAlmost three decades ago, Virginia Satir, the pioneer of family systems, defined the two approaches to building marriages, families and communities as “threat and reward” versus a “seed model” of growth. At the time, Satir estimated the threat and reward model guided the lives and decision-making of 95 percent of the people in the world.

The seed model is built on a simple equation: person equals person.

You can look at almost any concept through the lens of the threat and reward or seed model of growth and come up with very different decisions.

For example, in the threat and reward model, love means duty, possession, and survival. It means you give me as much as I give you. It can mean blackmail, bargaining, and control to enforce, “If you do this, then I will love you,” or “Because I love you, this is what you should do.”

In the seed model, love is recognized as a feeling that evolves as a result of harmony within the self and in relationship to others.

Love cannot be legislated.

In the threat and reward approach, possession and control can be called love. In that model, when someone pulls away, it can feel like death. In extremist regimes, that can mean death for those who disagree. In families, marriages and other close relationships built on the threat and reward model, pulling away can lead to abuse and violence.

The seed model is based on intentionally creating, sustaining, and growing relationships that enrich our lives.

De-Nile not only a river in EgyptFor people who have never been able to stand on their own two feet, look in the mirror, and enjoy their own company, that may feel like a fantasy.

In Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Iran, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and across the globe, the challenge for the foreseeable future is to create societies based on person equals person that transforms the present by adding something new that fits for individual and collective aspirations while freeing people to let go of what no longer fits.

Much like the work of helping couples, families, and communities see and embrace new possibilities for their lives, contributing to that process begins with respecting that free people do the best they can based on what they know.

For generations, people born within homes and societies ruled by the threat and reward model learned to deprive and discredit themselves in an atmosphere of fear and judgment. Except for those who survived and enriched themselves by denying person equals person, that came at a very high price.

Helping people see new possibilities that respects where they are now provides fertile ground to transform the present into something better. The attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that are no longer needed will naturally atrophy as people discover they don’t have to bully or victimize their way through life, but can instead grow and build together as human beings with much in common and differences too.

From that place, at home and across the globe, we have unimagined opportunities to realize our greatest dreams and potential.

Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.

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