Whistleblowers are, in my view, the unsung heroes of our day. They are the rare people of personal integrity, driven by force of conscience against a sea of resistance, by an inner compass that is sadly lacking in the majority who conform to the prevailing politic of the workplace or culture. If this were not the case, then whistleblowers would not find themselves invariably alone. And good, moral practice would be commonplace.
“They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot stop the coming of spring”
– Pablo Neruda
Sadly, inauthentic cultures and workplaces are created when a climate prevails of citizens or staff support of poor, self-serving or exploitative leaders and management. This is as true in the workplace as it is in society. Narcissism, self-interest, bullying, harassment, other forms of misconduct, and a dearth of personal integrity in leadership are widespread problems, and where narcissistic individuals lead or manage, a cadre of admirers and followers can always be found. They are both sides of the same problem and often create collusive conditions whereby ethical and moral practices are compromised in the interests of maintaining unhealthy, self-interested dynamics designed to reward individual egos. It is a microcosmic form of social control exercised by collusion between toxic leaders and their sycophantic followers. We each of us have the freedom to choose to be a part of this dynamic, or refuse it as we hold fast to the power of our better nature.
Whistleblowers, as a personification of the latter choice, tend to be individuals who first appeal to those in charge to make changes to such unhealthy cultures, and when silenced or their concerns dismissed, take action to reveal the truth in an effort to protect the interests, intent and purposes of the work. They often discover, however, that appeals to authority via grievance procedures for example, only reveal the scale and systemic level of the problem, which tends to exist by virtue of immoral or incompetent executive structures that permit them to continue. We see the same dynamic of self-serving manager or executive and obsequious follower in every institution, including politics and government. It is such a pervasive problem that we now live in a world where truth is routinely compromised for the sake of expediency in meeting individual self-interest. For the victims of such cultures often isolated and unsupported in their legitimate greivances against toxic individuals within inauthentic groups, stress, worry, declining health and even suicide can be very real consequences as they buckle under the pressures of emotional overwhelm.
Whistleblowing – the act of speaking up about unethical, incompetent, illegal, unsafe or immoral practices instead of staying silent and colluding with them – should be held up as an admirable act of honourable conduct in a moral world. But as history shows us, it is held in such contempt by those members of the culture it challenges that a pattern emerges quite quickly of the truth-teller being stigmatised, scapegoated, isolated, attacked and abandoned rather than celebrated for their authenticity. This fact, in itself, is a testament to the culture that we live in: a culture that is built upon inauthenticity and collusion for the sake of convenience, profit and personal gain. Once again, if this were not the case, then whistleblowing would be unnecessary and seldom seen.
Typically, whistleblowers have bucked the system and upset the applecart by revealing truths typically concealed by collusion. The cost to the truth-teller of complaints procedures, grievance processes, social exclusion, lost opportunities, stress and failing health, and often resignations can have a devastating effect upon individuals who were motivated to speak out against wrong-doing for the right reasons: to protect themselves and the common good. Such individuals can find themselves so isolated and alone, abandoned by colleagues and managers they may have once trusted, and having had to survive the hell of hostile grievance procedures that typically frame them as the guilty party, rather than those they have complained against. Psychologically, emotionally, financially, socially they can find themselves devastated, their careers set back, stifled or ruined.
Rebuilding one’s sense of self and purpose, sifting through the devastation and re-inventing oneself can be a long and painful task for some. Having gone through the hell of this process myself after I blew the whistle on sexual harassment and other misconduct of a senior manager and an evident narcissist, I know all too well what that process entails; the lies that some colleagues will tell; the deals struck in favour of abusers and those who lied; the diabolical maneouvres and denials of executives, and the cowardly silences of others, all to protect the guilty party and his or her associates.
As a psychotherapist, I have the utmost respect for anyone who has the courage to stand on the outside; stand against a corrupt institution; or who survives narcissistic abuse in the workplace; and those who take the road less travelled to uphold a moral imperative ahead of personal gain and personal wellbeing. I have worked with people who have survived this trial by fire, felt completely broken by it, but ultimately have come out the other end stronger and more resolute than ever. I have occupied this role myself. It can be a lengthy recovery for some coming to terms with traumatic experiences that haunt them for years, even decades. Or a short one for others who perhaps only need to tell their story and be understood and accepted for it. Either way, help is available and the overarching message I want to give here is: you are not alone. Your conduct is to be celebrated for making the world a little better in your refusal to collude; to go along to get along, or keep the peace ‘for a quiet life’. The world needs more people like you….
Photo credit: Garry Zaildar
A great post by Pamela Popper describing some of the dirty tactics used in an effort to silence whistleblowers:
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