It’s Whistleblower Week and everyone is tweeting, writing and opining about them but before we all move on to the number one threat to America– BEARS!– I’d like to talk about all the people who AREN’T whistleblowers.
What are they thinking right now? How are they reacting? What are they saying? What will they do in the future because of this?
I’m going to slide down from the official definition of Whistleblower, where someone exposes elements of a crime, to the more prosaic exposing of shady actions within your own life.
The reality is that many of us have been in a position where we knew that something going down was illegal. We saw something technically legal happening, but we still knew it was wrong. How we dealt with it says a lot about who we are but also where we are in life. Sometimes we can afford to pay the price, other times we say, “Looking myself in the mirror is overrated. I’ll just look the other way this time.”
Sometimes things are wrong according to your religion’s moral code, other times your own personal moral code is violated.
A lot of the time we do act. We bust the co-worker who is padding their expense account. We “accidently” let the client know that our boss didn’t dump the conflicting account when the said they would, “Oh I’m sure it was just a mix up. If you bring it to his attention, you didn’t hear it from me.”
Most people don’t seek out ethical dilemmas in the workplace, unless they are looking for fodder for a new cable TV show. Often there are no reporting systems in place, or you are in a company/culture where you know that nothing will be done. So when a big story about Whistleblowers breaks, there will be some conflict in people’s minds and that will be reflected in their comments. I want us to look at these comments and try to understand where they are coming from.
My friend Gottalaff over at The Political Carnival noted these tweets in her stream after the announcement of the identity of the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“He has no grip on reality,”
“I’ve been thinking mental since he said: “they can literally watch ur ideas form as u type”
“Delusions of grandeur much?”
“He’ll start a war with China,”
“His BS abt HK as a refuge makes me think he has a mental disorder.”
“Chinese Pres visits US yesterday. Leaker id came out 2day.Hong Kong is under the control of China. Fiill in the rest.”
“Bit delusional, grandiose notions, might be suffering from ODS.”
When someone like Snowden comes forward, people’s reactions don’t come out of a vacuum. Some praise the person, others get pissed off. The whistleblower did something many feel they could never do. Some lash out at the person because they think he is making them look bad for not acting on the same info. Think about all the people who worked for the NSA as contractors who didn’t come forward. Surely some felt the same as Snowden. But let’s not forget the people who believe that what the Whistleblower did was wrong. I’ve made the mistake thinking that everyone looks at this situation as I do.
I feel a great deal of empathy for people who can’t be whistleblowers right now. I’m going to suggest things that they can do to make it easier for others to act now and in the future.
Actions You Can Take Now
1) Pop over to the National Whistleblower Center and read the Whistleblower Handbook.
2) Figure out ways to get your company and colleagues to do the right thing–without getting fired.(Not to brag, but I’m very proud of the way I figured out how to help corporations do the right thing by suggesting they remove their sponsorship from Right Wing Talk radio. “Don’t let them taint your brand! Do you want your brand to be less sexist? Stop sponsoring sexist talk.” )
People who don’t want their actions to be exposed will work to make exposure harder. They will get groups like ALEC to create bills like the Ag-Gag laws that criminalize doing the right thing.
Our job going forward is to revise attitudes toward whistleblowers and create systems and structures to help the next whistleblower. Someday it might be you blowing that whistle.
Photo by Christian Guthier Creative Commons Attribution license