FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Whistleblowers and Teamplayers

It was only after whistleblowers came out of the closet during the Great Deflation that Time Magazine honored the practice of what team players call “ratting out your pals.” Conservative magazines like Time may give lip service to whistleblowing in the abstract but never champion whistle blowers until after they have sung. Instead they support the conditions and practices which make whistleblowers a threat in the first place.

Whistleblowers are a reminder that ethics must be embodied in real flesh-and-blood human beings who put themselves on the line. Unless our deeper beliefs and values become flesh, they are words words words designed to make us feel better, rationalize misdeeds, and send distracting pangs of conscience straight into space.

If you have never known a real flesh-and-blood whistleblower, see the film “The Insider” for a good portrait. The film confirms the conclusion of a Washington law firm specializing in whistleblower cases that lists motivations for whistleblowing money, anger and resentment, revenge, justice and eliminates all but one as sufficient to carry a whistleblower through the abuse they will face. Only acting from a pained conscience will sustain a whistleblower through the ordeal.

During a recent speech for accountants about ethics, our Q&A moved quickly into the gray areas where accountants spend much of their time. Outsiders think accountants live in a black and white grid with simple answers but in fact they wade through a swamp of maybe this or maybe that.

Accountants are paid whistleblowers. Accountants are intended to be in the corporate culture but not of it, to use company books like mirrors to reveal the truth and consequences of choices. That’s why it is so difficult to do the job right.

The tension comes from the fact that only an individual can have a conscience. An institution or organization can develop a culture that supports doing the right thing only when a leader pursues that objective with single-minded intensity. Left to themselves, all cultures are based on survival, not telling the truth. Cultures reward team players, not whistleblowers. In all my years as a teacher, priest, speaker and consultant, I have never seen a culture with a conscience.

A cop friend reminds me that the first time a rookie cop sees his partners beat someone up in an alley or notices that money or cocaine doesn’t always get back to the station, he is closely watched. The word goes out quickly that “he’s OK” or “watch out for him.” Those that are OK move up. The cop is a practicing Roman Catholic and noted that recent scandals in the church are symptoms of the same dynamics.

Institutions usually encourage disclosure only when it no longer matters. Operation Northwoods the desire by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962 to eliminate Fidel Castro by sinking refugee boats from Cuba, attacking our own base at Guantanamo, and planting terror bombs in American cities was revealed by James Bamford in his book “Body of Secrets,” but nary a peep of outrage greeted revelation of the treasonous scheme. When the Church apologized to Galileo for torturing him four hundred years after the fact, it raised the question of how an institution had so lost its moorings that someone might think an absurd gesture like that had meaning.

In Wisconsin a friend was nominated to head an arts board at the state level. His work on behalf of the party in power and his passion for art collecting made him a natural but he was passed over. I asked a confidante of then-governor Tommy Thompson why.

“He’s not a team player,” he said. “He isn’t predictable.”

The guy who told me this was a team player. He was faithful and steady and worked tirelessly to raise money for the party. When friends were “naughty,” as he called it, he looked the other way. He called recently to tell me he was now a million dollars richer, having been compensated at that level for three years on the board of an energy firm. He had been recommended for the position by his friend, now-Secretary Tommy Thompson.

Thus has it always been. Thus will it ever be.

Why are so many of your heroes, I was asked, people who were assassinated? Why do names like Jesus, Lincoln, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. keep showing up in your conversation?

I think it’s because they embody what it takes to make a stand on behalf of the truth. They were all human but found the courage to blow the whistle on the cultures of death our institutions create. Their reward was getting whacked.

Make no mistake, those who articulate or embody an upward call always inspire ambivalence. A disciple of Gandhi said that even those who loved him most were secretly relieved when he was murdered because for the moment the pressure was off. Jesus as icon is malleable in the hands of his institutional custodians whereas Jesus the Jew in the street was a real pain.

In an era characterized by increasing secrecy by the government and the gradual but progressive surrender of our rights, it’s only a matter of time until some malevolent design ripens and bursts into the sunlight because some whistleblower just can’t stand it another minute. Some team player, their motives mixed but their conscience pricked, will tell the truth. That’s the only way to have accountability when those with power and privilege remove transparency from the processes of government and business.

When a mainstream Midwest woman asks how she will tell her grandchildren what America was like before the Great Change, how she will explain openness and disclosure, the Freedom of Information Act, guarantees in the Bill of Rights then I know that we don’t need a weatherman to know the direction of the wind and see the firestorm on the horizon. Signs of the times grow on trees like low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking.

We are all team players, all of us some of the time, some of us all of the time, but we each have our own particular crossroads where we must decide if our words will become flesh. It is never easy and there are always consequences. Only integrity will see us through to the bitter end and none of us really know if we have it until it is tested.

RICHARD THIEME speaks, writes and consults on the human dimensions of life and work, the impact of technology, and “life on the edge.” He can be reached at: rthieme@thiemeworks.com

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail