I was recently talking to a friend (that I will not name) who told me a story of his experience working for a fast food chain (that I will not disclose) and what happened to him when he tried to do the right thing. He became a whistleblower and as I began to think about his circumstances, I began to broaden my thoughts about the subject in general.
Perhaps I should start by explaining exactly what a whistleblower is, then get into why situations surrounding them are so unbelievably tragic to me.
It’s not often that I quote Wikipedia…but they summed it up so well:
“A whistleblower (whistle-blower or whistle blower) is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public.”
That definition is pretty simple to understand. What I don’t get is what soon follows:
“Whistleblowers face legal action, criminal charges, social stigma, and termination from any position, office, or job….However, whistleblowing in the public sector organization is more likely to result in federal felony charges and jail-time. A whistleblower who chooses to accuse a private sector organization or agency is more likely to face termination and legal and civil charges.”
So wait…exposing wrongdoing is a good thing…but you can be punished for it? Yup. My friend lost his job and narrowly avoided being arrested. His story began when he was told to lay out rotten onions for consumption by the public. He told his boss the onions were rotten, but like a good boss (sarcasm), they didn’t care. He refused to do it and was threatened with termination if he didn’t comply. Instead of complying though, he took the onions and put them in the trunk of his car and drove to the police station…boss in hot pursuit. At the police station his boss informed the cops that he had stolen from the restaurant and tried to have him arrested.
Now…kudos have to given to the cop in this case as he actually took the time to listen to my friend’s side of the issue. My friend informed the cop that the restaurant was trying to serve clearly rotten food and that his moral code and religious beliefs prevented him from allowing that. When the cop asked for proof…a quick trip to the trunk erased all doubt. The police refused to press charges against him, and called the Health Department on the spot.
Now…of course he got fired, and his boss got promoted, but what gets me is why on Earth, as the person in charge of the company, would you fire a guy that is looking out for quality assurance, and promote a person that clearly doesn’t care about your customer base?
It gets worse though.
In looking into whistleblowing in general, it seems to be the norm to lambaste the person doing the right thing, and protect the person or organization doing the wrong thing. I know we live in a topsy-turvy world, but this is ridiculous.
There was even a film made called “Whistleblower” based on the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac. Her story is incredible, but like most other stories, ends with her being cast into the light of a social pariah and those she brought to light virtually unpunishable.
Of course no post about whistleblowing can ever be complete without the mention of Edward Snowden. Regardless of what is thought about him, his actions have affected us all. I don’t want to make a habit of quoting Wiki, but once again they have summed it all up very nicely:
“A subject of controversy, Snowden has been variously called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a patriot, and a traitor. His disclosures have fueled debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy.”
The real question for me though is where do we want to stand? Do we want to stand with people that expose wrongdoing or do we want to stand in opposition to those doing the exposing? There is an old saying that “snitches get stitches” but is that really the position of those that benefit from the snitching, or those being snitched on?
I guess the reason all this is unbelievably tragic to me is that I would not want my children eating rotten onions and getting sick. I would not want my children lured into a human trafficking ring. I would not want my children deprived of their privacy…and yet there are people out there that willingly stand on the other side of all this, effectively saying they would want all that for my children…and yours.
If ever you want an accurate gauge of the moral consciousness of a society, look at how they treat those trying to do the right thing, and the legacy they leave for their children by such treatment.