WHISTLEBLOWING: A SOCIAL DUTY
IS IT A MISTAKE TO WHISTLEBLOW?
Creation Date: 28/Jan/2012
A cliché says that "you shouldn't shoot the messenger, but listen to the message". But the
people involved in unlawful acts know the message perfectly well, and the message endangers them so they
don't want it to be known, therefore their main interest is to divert attention and shoot the messenger.
With this they hope that no one will hear the message and their endangered position slips by unnoticed.
And if possible, buried forever.
Many tactics have been designed to shoot the messenger, from discrediting or poisoning his reputation, up to Influence peddling with the purpose to isolate and cause him financial damage. The people responsible of the unlawful acts avoid addressing that which is really important, the contents of the complaint, because they would have to explain their acts or omissions.
The culture around "whistleblowing" varies from country to country and according to social
strata. In many places the whistleblower or "grass" or "rat" how it's called in the
criminal world ("sapo" in Chile), is considered a traitor to social and institutional
loyalties, while in other circles they are considered “heroes” or “saints” that sacrifice the benefits of
belonging to the herd, or because they defend a higher ethos, above that badly conceived loyalty (choosing
between betraying an institution or their humanity).
Furthermore, this extremist culture, where the whistleblower is a hero or a villain, is fertile ground for attacks against the integrity and ethical responsibility of the whistleblower, pigeonholing him as morally or psychologically disturbed, a loony, a problematic person, an incompetent, someone with dark purposes, or any qualifying adjective that might distract people from the real issue, and in this way, stop them from getting interested in evaluating and acknowledging the validity of the complaint. The spotlight is focused on the whistleblower's motives, without considering that if someone saves a life little does it matter why they did it, what matters is that a life was saved. And although in many cases of unlawful actions lives are not at stake, the metaphor is still valid.
Another cultural element that obstructs whistleblowing is individualism, something that distorts
the concept of duties. At least in the Chilean culture, and something clearly encouraged by the economic
system, is the belief that personal financial security (related to protecting their families) is a duty and
not a personal choice, so people choose not to sacrifice their financial success instead of choosing
to protect a social value. This choice is accelerated by a social, political, legal and administrative
system that helps to make that sacrifice more gruelling than what it should be. When it comes to violent
crime cases, this can be observed in peoples' resistance to report crimes or act as witnesses, but
in those cases the personal sacrifice might be someone's life or health, not just a few dollars more or less.
Probably this is why people tend to judge so easily that those who whistleblow must be "stupid", but not because they are essentially "stupid" but due to the projection of the incompetencies of those who believe that, and lack the courage to stand up and tackle the unlawful acts, putting aside their personal financial interests to fulfil their social duty.
Added to this attitude, of expecting others to take care of unlawful acts, or the government, there is a tendency to take sides with the persons incriminated, isolating the "twonk" and shooting the messenger. Meanwhile no one talks about the message, that is, what really needs to be addressed. Everyone is more interested in the "stupidness" of the messenger.
This is the second region of whistleblowing, the region of retaliation.
Here we also have fertile ground for the incriminated persons to act against the whistleblower, specially when the whistleblower acts alone. No one will stand up to take sides with the messenger because what he confronts is a herd. And the herd has more options for implementing influence peddling. Obviously when someone takes part in influence peddling they don't publish that in the papers, and it would be very naive to think it doesn't happen, because the main interest of the incriminated part is to get rid of the message, otherwise they would have faced the issue openly with their truth.
A worker that decides to stand up and whistleblow an unlawful act puts himself under a series of risks, like losing his job, his income and the financial security that that provides. They also can put themselves under workplace harassment, isolation, discrimination, and abuse by colleagues and superiors, regardless of the validity of the complaint or if the culprits were punished or not. Many are forced to leave their position or retire after being blacklisted so it's impossible for them to get a job. The hypocrisy of some employers, who promote whistleblowing in their companies, but later try to get rid of the whistleblowers or avoid hiring workers that have been involved in whistleblowing in other companies.
It truly requires courage and integrity. The history of mankind is teemed with cases of people who stood up against abuse, some famous and others anonymous, but they all shine in our memory like the morning star, making sure we don't fall asleep. Standing up against an unlawful act is a small potato compared to what those people had to face.
After all, someone that whistleblows an unlawful act is neither a hero nor a villain, nor is he motivated by altruistic or selfish reasons, but simply someone that finds himself amidst a chain of events of which he has no control and cannot escape because he has to do what is right. This is an act of virtue not disloyalty, it's their duty. Heroes do things that are beyond duty. For criminals, those who grass them will always be villains. Should we let criminals tell us what we should think or do?
Kant said: “Even if, by a special disfavor of fortune or by the niggardly provision of a step motherly nature, this [good] will should wholly lack the capacity to carry out its purpose [ . . . ] then, like a jewel, it would still shine by itself, as something that has its full worth in itself. ".
Dear reader, I leave it to you, who kindly spends his time reading these lines, to answer the question: Is it a mistake to whistleblow?
Is verbal aggression an unlawful act?
No, it is a personal situation that requires a complaint that should be followed through the established channels of an organisation.
If the organisation's authorities don't process the complaint, would that be an unlawful act?
Yes, this is a situation where the established channels are not respected; it endangers the organisation, its reputation, the rule of law, and its trustworthiness.
If you want to read more on this topic before you answer the question, I suggest you have a look at the following links: