Friday, October 7, 2011

Why Whistleblowers Don't

Here in the land of "right to work" it is comical to imagine complaining about a problem.  The primary attribute desired in the work force in South Carolina is compliance.  So over the years I have worked in the low-level, low-pay county job, I have learned only to complain about things that the boss also doesn't like, or that the boss has not himself implemented, or to grumble to those few people who have no management titles or responsibilities.  There are three of us.

Here's a management technique that has proven to increase compliance:  make nearly everyone a manager.  You can give them shit pay, but as long as they are supervising somebody they will have a hand in the pie and defend the workplace.

I have a little job, of little importance, that I do well, and I have at times enjoyed.  I am hanging on by a thread for the remaining years before I can collect social security.  I have learned, over and over and over and over in my life, that complaining, regardless of the validity of the complaint, or how nicely it is framed, does not work.  At best, your boss dislikes and distrusts you, in the middle you may be given more distasteful hours or tasks, and at worst, you could be given a transfer or lose your job altogether.

We've seen the movies about whistleblowers, there have been enough books written about the fates of the complainers.  The handful of big complaints brought to light by courageous people that have actually made a difference is infinitesimal, and the process extraordinarily painful, the positive outcome often negligible, temporary, or nonexistent.

Without consciously being aware of this, most of us minimize our importance, our perceptions, our grievances.  We believe that we are lucky to have a job, our employers are smarter than we are, we have no right to complain.  And if we are lucky, we don't think too much about what's wrong.

Yet, when we hear about something really, really, bad, let's say torture at Abu Ghraib, we are amazed that it happened.  That people were complicit while others looked the other way.  We should be astounded that anybody ever comes forward, because the system is such that there is rarely any good that will come of doing the right thing.

Will you risk your security for the whistleblower?  If the answer is no, or if you can't answer, you have illustrated why whistleblowers don't.

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