In the spring of 2002 while employed at the South Central Human Relations Center, I had the opportunity to attend a two-day conference on marital therapy. the conference was presented by Dr. John Gottman, a researcher and therapist. What made the conference come alive was his use of practical ideas and demonstrations.

Dr. Gottman stated that there are three possible behaviors in a relationship, be it marriage, friendship or even employment. We are either moving toward one another in a relationship, or we are moving away from the other person or we are moving against the other person.

In each case there is movement, there is behavior. The bottom line is that each of us is at a choice point. It is our choice, it is our decision whether or not we foster the relationship or take a negative stance.

Silence it a choice and silence is a strong behavior in a relationship. Silence can be used to move away from or to move against a spouse or partner. Come to think of it, most if not all negative emotions carry the same power.

Despite the negativity just mentioned, silence between two people who know and respect each other can be a beautiful thing. To be on the same wave length and enjoying what is there doesn’t need words all the time.

When we demonstrate moving toward behavior toward another person, an important principle is put into place. The moving toward behavior begets further moving toward behavior. Several examples will illustrate this: a smile will lead to a smile in return; holding a door open will lead to the next door being held open; a simple hello to a stranger on the Morehouse Trail will prompt a hello to another person.

One afternoon several weeks ago, I selected an item from the Hy Vee Deli and waited in line to pay. The woman in front of me had many more items to check out. She motioned me to step ahead of her and when I took money out to pay, the cashier told me it was already paid for. All I could utter was thank you. As I drove out of the parking lot and noticed someone exiting, I motioned for him to exit before me. Some call this paying it forward.

Unfortunately, moving away behavior often leads to more moving away behavior. And the cycle continues.

The same goes for moving against behavior. Unless the behavior becomes a reconciling or forgiving action, the gap widens between two people. Sometimes forgiveness of the other is a necessary starting point.

Using the three choice paradigm, Dr. Gottman came up with three other behaviors to describe how a couple or two other people (parent and teenager) can interact with each other.

• Each can avoid and thus become defensive, withdrawing, push down their feelings and just focus on self.

• Each can attack and blame the other for the problem.

• Each can confide and talk about his/her current feelings such as fear, rejection or confusion.

These are not unlike the choice of behaviors described earlier. The important thing to remember is that each of us had a choice, a different option in each interaction.

As I have done before, I again asked the men at the Hospitality House to respond to two questions. Their responses suggest that most of the men understand and put the principle in to action.

What “moving toward” behavior looks like and how we can accomplish this:

• Positive communication and a smile.

• By being polite and being a friend.

• By being open minded.

• Good respectful manners.

• Listening to another’s story of life.

• Team work; helping others.

• Sharing with others — food, time.

• Pay it forward.

• Include others in conversation — be more social.

• We are all in the same boat — each person needs help.

• Help others with serious problems — mental and others.

• Offer to talk with others about problems.

• Cheer them up.

As one homeless man put it “We are all in the same boat and we all need help.” This spoke of humility and a willingness to accept and to offer help. “Moving towards” is a surefire investment with a great return.

What does all this have to do with the men at the Hospitality House of Owatonna? If the men at the House can implement the principle of moving toward, can we not do the same?

Please continue to support the men at the Hospitality House with your gifts of dollars, prayers, and donations.

Jerome F. Zetah, Ph.D., is a board member of Hospitality House in Owatonna.

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