Saturday, April 08, 2006

Whistle Blowers and Moral Courage

It's been a long week and most of my free time has been tied up with thinking about the danger of institutions that operate without transparency. One of the worst things about working at job where many decisions are made behind closed doors and employees are kept out of the decision-making process is that you create a great deal of paranoia. When you don't know exactly what you're rights are, or when you discover one day (something that just happened to me) that your rights are essentially insignificant (which is the case at Private colleges), then it is easy to fear retaliation, be intimidated, and spend a lot of days in a panic. This is not going to be a post where I talk about any specifics, so I apologize to those readers who are dying for gossip on campus.

Instead, this is a post where I am meditating on the absolute necessity of democratic institutions, transparency and due process. I have never been as committed to these noble values as much as I am now. What I have learned this past year is how easy it is for all of us to give away power, albeit slowly and seemingly at little personal cost. You find yourself overworked and exhausted as it is. The time it would take to be active, responsible and attentive in governance--whether it be at your workplace, church, local or federal levels--is simply not there. When you decide you are angry enough or fed up enough to make a difference, and get involved, you start failing to meet the other zillion responsibilities you have. The only way to change institutions and purge the forces of fear and intimidation out of them (whether we are talking about Bush outing Wilson or corporations retaliating against whistleblowers) is to commit yourself to join together with fellow employees, citizens, or parishoneers to demand accountability.

What stops many people from doing the latter, sadly, is a kind of complacency with how things are now. Or, many of us choose to be sheep rather than stand up--even if at great cost to ourselves--and point out corruption. And yet, if we don't begin to fight the profound corruption and abuses of power in our institutions, we will wake up one day and find out it is too late to make a difference, short of a revolution. We will have given away all of our power.

I know this is a somber and perhaps slightly scary post. But, I think when you confront the ugliness of any institution trying to protect its power at the expense of fairness, transparency, and due process, then hopefully you will feel the same fire that's in my belly right now.

Every year I lecture my students on the importance of moral courage. I fear that what is far easier in our culture is to display acts of physicial violence. We think that the way to stand up to bullies is to act just like them and kick the shit out of them. But, if this is your response, then you just perpetuate the disgusting cycle. What we need are real heroes and sheores, who stand up, despite fear of retaliation, and expose corruption when they see it. We need people to tell the truth, even if they might risk all comfort and security. And, I am surprised by how rarely I encounter these men and women of moral courage. I think any of us who can step forward and model this really ought to for the sake of our future democracy.

UPDATE: I don't know how I missed this excellent post over at The Reaction: Liberalism Unbound. You should go read it right now!!