Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why whistleblowers are so important

To my way of thinking whistleblowers need to be encouraged. If someone is guilty of corrupt, illicit, negligent, abusive or exploitative activities they need to be brought to account for their actions. If a person is not brought to account then they will forever be looking over their shoulder wondering when they will be found out and when the axe will fall. They will carry a burden of guilt which will weigh heavily upon them, leading to increasing stress and isolation from their fellow beings. No one who exploits others in any way feels comfortable and at ease in the company of those they have hurt or negatively affected – this is a natural consequence of guilt. As the French mathematician and humanist, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote in his ‘Pensees’, “There is no greater unhappiness than when a person starts to fear the truth lest it denounce him.”

This is the reason why whistleblowers often fear for their lives. They have ‘exposed’ someone’s deepest secrets that they never expected would see the light of day – secrets that are dark and were hidden. Such exposure presents the perpetrator with an image of themselves which differs from their own, internal, picture of whom or what they think they are – everyone likes to think of themselves as a ‘good person’. When someone is caught out and exposed by a whistleblower they are forced to see themselves, as it were, in their ‘true colours’ and they are shocked and enter a state of denial and their inevitable initial response is “I have done nothing wrong”.

They will fight tooth and nail to preserve their image of themselves and to avoid appearing diminished in their own eyes or in the eyes of others. They try to pass the blame to others or to accuse the whistleblower of being untrustworthy and of lying. They fight to maintain a level of trust because everyone, particularly in business or government, must be seen as trustworthy. All worthwhile relationships are built on trust. If a person knows (deep down and because of their actions) that they are not trust worthy, they will not trust others either. Not to trust anyone is to have no meaningful relationships, which in turn isolates them from others. It must never be forgotten, however, that Man, as in Mankind, is a highly social being and is unable to live successfully or for long without some social contact, which is why the most severe punishment that can be imposed on anyone is solitary confinement (think of the self-imposed isolation by the North Korean government and the effect this has had on the unfortunate people of that impoverished country or the Chinese government’s persecution of dissidents and members of the Falun Gong).

To expose a person’s (or a government’s or businesses’) corrupt, illegal or exploitative activities is necessary, not only for society but also for those individuals engaged in such activities. It is as if something secret and unseen has now seen the light of day, which has a cathartic effect by lifting a burden and ‘cleansing’ a person (or organisation) of their guilt. The alternative is fear, and fear begets anger and hatred, and those who are fearful and consumed by hate lose their powers of reason and in such a state seldom exercise sound judgement. A person’s ability to determine ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ is suspended and everything and anything is considered acceptable, which defers the moment of exposure. Again think of North Korea; also BP and their problems in the Gulf; the Chinese government and dispossessed landowners; the Catholic Church and their paedophile priests; the Australian regulatory authorities and highly toxic pesticides banned elsewhere but still used in Australia and so the list goes on. Consider also the many other less than charitable activities exposed by that very useful website at http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Wikileaks.

What cannot be forgotten in today’s unedifying stampede for money and positions of influence is that men (as in mankind) have done these things and that we are all of mankind, furthermore we all share in the multi-various proclivities of mankind. Even if, from a purely legal stand point, any one individual may not be an accessory to any particular questionable activity or behaviour, because of our human nature and the consciousness that binds us all to each other, we are all guilty – we are all of mankind. We are all diminished by such unwarranted behaviour. This is why whistleblowers are so important.

“All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”
Edmund Burke (British Statesman and Philosopher, 1729-1797)

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