Fair Play … The motivation to change

Deprivation, pressure and the pursuit of happiness

Why do people, animals, plants change their behavior and even their beliefs and values? For the basic instinct to survive deprivation may be the core impulse. For a society pressure and reward may be the main impulses. Pressure is a mean for critical situations, like a pandemia or to avoid crimes and vandalism. And beside these two - deprivation and pressure - there is the pursuit of happiness.



We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- Preamble to the Declaration of Independence (USA 1776)


What is happiness? Just the selfish look for a comfortable life or to be a part of a community and to be of use for others? You may decide for yourself. Timshel, thou mayest, as John Steinbeck describes it in "East of Eden" (Steinbeck 1952).

Pressure has in my view an immediate and usually short effect. In deprivation it depends how far you have to go to get what you need or want. I see the most sustainable effect in the pursuit of happiness. A gift, if the pursuit includes to be of use for people and planet. The personal reward is the satisfaction and - in some cases - the thankfulness of others.

Asked for my motivation to become a medical doctor I say: there is no better thrill, than to see how a person survives, gets better and sometimes even says "thank you". Beside this: it is a profession you can perform everywhere even in space (as a child I loved Bones, the doctor in Star Trek - and still do).


Fence-sitter … Who is really motivated?

Advocates, opponents, sceptics and objectors

Is there any evidence on the spreading? During the 1990ies Mohr, Woehe and Diebold explored the distribution of people's attitudes during a period of change. What do you think? How many are advocates? How many are opponents? And how may just wait and see? And what are their motivations?


Fence-Stitter Matrix [translated from Weßel 2017, "Werkzeuge", p. 43]
Fence-Sitter Matrix [translated from Weßel 2017, "Werkzeuge", p. 43]

Mohr, Woehe and Diebold developed the metaphor of the fence-sitter: the advocates on this side of the fence going for change, the opponents are behind the fence, and the people, who wait and see, are sitting on the fence. The book "Menschen" (Weßel 2017) has an example in an engineering company. It shows how to analyze a group and how you can deal with the four groups. Four? The fence-sitters divide in two subgroups. The matrix sketches the groups and their motivations.


Consider that there are two areas: your personal and the group's benefit or loss. The x-axis represents the personal benefit; the y-axis the group's benefit. The "advocates" see benefit for both, personally and for the community. The "opponents" see loss for both. The fence-sitter "sceptics" see personal benefit but the danger of loss for the community. The fence-sitter "objectors" expect benefit for the community but no personal benefit, sometimes even personal loss.


Example during corona: Physical Distancing

"The virus is primarily spread between people during close contact,[c] most often via small droplets produced by coughing,[d] sneezing, and talking." (Wikipedia 03 Jun 2020: COVID-19 pandemic).

Annotation 1: my great thanks go to the Wikipedia Contributors, who do such an impressive job. corona is just one example for it. My favorite beside the main article is currently the article about Sweden (Wikipedia 03 Jun 2020: COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden).


One of the core measures during corona is physical distancing.


Annotation 2: the WHO recommends to speak of "physical" distancing instead of "social" distancing, because it is important, that we find other ways to socialize. Corona will last and we have to change our attitudes and stay mentally and emotionally healthy. Humans are social beings, we need each other.


To describe the advocates for physical distancing is easy: the measure supports the community to cope with the pandemia (mitigation, see for instance the above mentioned Wikipedia article), the individual takes less risk to get an infection.

The opponents see for instance economical and social losses for the community and themselves: shops, manufacturing and travel go down; elderly and other people have less social contacts and get depressed; domestic violence increases - just to name a few threats.

The sceptics see a personal benefit for instance in the opportunity to retreat from social contancts and to focus on a project (writng a book, gardening, refitting a house). For examples of threats for the community see the opponents.

For the objectors' expectations for personal losses see the opponents. For the objectors' expectations for benefits for the community see the advocates.


What can you do?

Empower the advocates. Listen to the objectors and the sceptics. You can learn a lot from them. And keep the opponents informed but do not put a lot of effort in them. The probality to convince them is minimal. To keep them informed is to be sure, that they do not see themselves as ignored. This would endanger the growth of action against the change. And who knows? People change, sometimes even their oppinion and attitude.

Annotation 3: In my view Sweden performs well (see for instance the Wikipedia article mentioned above). This is due to their culture of trust, responsibility and respect. The Swedish people trust their public health institutions, their government and vice versa the government trusts the people. The government values recommendations over laws and regulations. Furthermore the Public Health Agency of Sweden and its scientists argue and work in my view evidence-based. See for instance the reasoning for not closing primary schools. It is quiet possible, that in other countries with other cultures laws and regulations are necessary to mitigate corona, but I hope that we learn form Sweden.

Back to the fence-sitters. Did you guess the distribution?
Here is, what Mohr, Woehe and Diebold found:


  5 % advocates
 80 % fence-sitters
 15 % opponents

So few advocates? Everett Rogers showed with his "Diffusion of Innovations" that this is no reason to despair, but just to start with the change. Fair Play … Diffusion of change builds the seventh and for now final part of this mini-serial. First I would like you to look on examples for change, for instance in the following blog entry Fair Play … Business and sustainability.


Christa Weßel - Thursday, 04 Jun 2020



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