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Blow Your Whistle: Being the Conscience of America

Whistleblowing is not a new phenomenon, though of late, it seems to have become a more frequent occurrence. It is also taking on new and different forms. Staff members come forth in the political arena to alert the public to the unethical behavior of an elected official. Page after page, tell-all books illustrate the scandalous goings-on of prominent figures in our society. Employees risk their jobs to speak out against the wrongdoings within large organizations. Disturbing videos of immoral activity is captured by mobile phones and distributed to the public via social media. There is even a whistleblowing movement among international hacker groups, called hacktivists, who highlight corruption of governmental agencies and institutions. Illicit, horrendous, and unimaginable conduct is not new, but what would make one reveal that which is intended to remain concealed? What is the impact of whistleblowing?

(Continued here from The Herald)

Children who run and tell on the bad behavior of their siblings are called tattletales. Blabbermouth, snitch, informant, rat, and other disparaging names are used to describe people who come forward to uncover the dirty secrets that others want to remain hidden. These people are often not looked upon with favor. Their acts of revealing the harmful acts of others should be applauded, yet they often come under attack. For some, their motives for coming forward, and even their reputations, are put to excruciating test. Others risk their jobs, their families, and even their lives. Yet whistleblowing is on the rise.

A survey done in 2018 by the Global Business Ethics Survey, “found that 47% of people reported observing misconduct and about 70% reported what they saw to a supervisor. In a previous year of the same research, ECI [Ethics and Compliance Initiative] found that fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) of all employees ever report what they observed to an outside entity.”[1] What does the increase in whistleblowing say about our society? More importantly, what does it say about the one blowing the whistle? It cannot be an easy decision to make as the diagram below illustrates:

[2]

To understand the depth of whistleblowing in our country, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a Whistleblower Protection Program that “enforces protections for employees who suffer retaliation for engaging in protected activities under more than 20 federal laws.” At the federal level, whistleblowing is encouraged by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) as it is purported to save billions of dollars paid by taxpayers, to protect the health and safety of the public, and to keep government transparent and government officials honest. OSC also protects individuals who bring complaints about wrongdoings and corruption by concealing their identities when possible. However, OSC does not investigate, but brings the complaint to the agency against which the allegation was made, allowing the agency to investigate the complaint. But can we trust that the agency will handle the investigation of itself honestly? Is there any wonder why whistleblowers make their claims publicly?

Public whistleblowing impacts public opinion and is powerful in helping rid corruption at the highest levels of corporations and governments. Corporate heads are fired, presidents impeached, and policies changed due to the claims and courage of whistleblowers. So, what motivates one to blow the whistle? Whistleblowers are the social consciousness of society. They awaken us to social ills that are infecting our society.

The risk most often outweighs the reward for most whistleblowers. If whistleblowing is the moral alarm bell for our community, might we consider John the Baptist? A Biblical whistleblower, John the Baptist, drew attention to the unethical practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees publicly whenever he saw them. Paul was the recipient of whistleblower complaints and reports of wrongdoings in the early churches. Even Jesus blew the whistle on immoral acts taking place all around him. The stakes were high for these whistleblowers, and can be equally high for today’s whistleblowers.

 

Are modern-day whistleblowers akin to prophets in that they sound the alarms of approaching danger, calling us to sit up straight and take note of what is happening? Are they the current voices calling in the wilderness of lawlessness? Can we imagine the risk to society were it not for the courage and risks of whistleblowers? Whatever we call them, whistleblowers are the unrewarded heroes of morality and our social conscience.

[1] (Fulton n.d.)

[2] (Ethics Resource Center 2011)