Kurt Lewin and the Change Theory
Kurt Lewin immigrated from Germany to the United States in the 1930s; and dedicated his entire career on the study of human behavior. He was deemed by his peers as the founder of social psychology (The Atlantic, 2015). During World War II there was a meat shortage; and the government needed help. Their goal was to change the eating habits of stateside Americans in consuming (the plentiful) organ meats instead of the popular (familiar) cuts of meat that were in shortage. This was a difficult task since the majority of Americans considered organ meats as taboo and a marker of poor social status (The Atlantic, 2015).
The way Lewin (and his partner in the experiment, Margaret Mead) approached this task was to understand the reason why people avoided organ meat; and the answer they came up with was unfamiliarity (The Atlantic, 2015). Meaning, if people are unfamiliar with what organ meats are then why would they consume it? The first step in familiarizing the public was in titling organ meat as “variety meat” and deeming one “patriotic” for eating variety meat. Also, print campaigns, community group cooking lessons and cook books (to teach how to prepare variety meats) were heavily marketed by the government to propagate the variety meat message (The Atlantic, 2015). Did the variety meat experiment work? Well, it did last throughout the war; and helped the meat shortage efforts, so it those terms it was successful.
This type of work led Lewin to creating his Change Theory (1947) that was a three-step model in organizational change:
- Unfreezing Stage: Those in a group need to unfreeze or let go of old ways (or prior thinking) in order to accept the new change.
- Change Stage: This stage is the actual change in the groups thoughts or behaviors; and the movement into the intended change.
- Refreeze Stage: This is the final stage which is cementing the change as now permanent (Burns, 2004).
How Does the Change Theory Apply to Death with Dignity?
This post began with a meat shortage story; and now I am asking you to apply this to the Death with Dignity law. Seems odd, but the point of the meat story was to highlight the importance of understanding your audience before broaching the word change. For most people, change does not come easily; and it can be a slow process. For instance, Death with Dignity was passed in Oregon in 1997. Here we are, almost two decades later, still trying to convince people that Death with Dignity is a good idea.
In Arizona, the Change Theory would definitely need to take hold in the state government. This will take an aggressive legislator to campaign for the bill; and to convince the majority of voters that mentally competent, terminally-ill patients have the right to choose how they want to die.
How can one person start change? In past posts, I have mentioned a grassroots movement starting through organizations like the Death with Dignity National Center. These dedicated volunteers have been campaigning and educating people across the country on what Death with Dignity means; and how others can be involved. This movement has been effective and there are many states that have drafted bills that mimic the Death with Dignity law in Oregon (e.g., New York) (Death with Dignity National Center, 2015).
Like I stated with the meat story, it is a good thing to familiarize and educate people about your mission; and hopefully change will come.
Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the planned approach to change: A re-appraisal. Journal of Management Studies, 41(6), 977-1002.
Death with Dignity National Center (2015). Death with dignity around the U.S. Retrieved from http://www.deathwithdignity.org/advocates/national
The Atlantic (2015). The World War II campaign to bring organ meats to the dinner table. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/the-world-war-ii-campaign-to-bring-organ-meats-to-the-dinner-table/380737/