Sunday, November 9, 2014

Whistleblowers - Real Heroes

Lately, the media has covered instances of airbags killing passengers.  The airbags were made by a Japanese company, Takata, that tested the airbags in 2004, and found them to be defective. Corporate leaders in Takata ordered that the test results were to be destroyed.  Chicago Tribune story  Work to fix the defective airbags was cancelled.  It is unknown how many people have died as a result of these defective airbags.  If there had been even one whistle-blower, lives might have been saved.

I watched "Citizen Four," a documentary about Edward Snowden and his NSA whistle-blowing, today with my brother.  I do not know any more facts outside of what was presented in the documentary, but it is shocking to me that our government surveils the cell phone records, internet postings, emails of all Americans.  Angela Merkel was understandably upset to discover, through Snowden's disclosures, that our government was (hopefully, in the past tense) listening to her cell phone calls.  Merkel has always been one of our closest allies.  Snowden is a whistle-blower.  His film caused me to reflect on the characteristics of whistle-blowers, some of our unsung heroes in this country.

These are my conclusions.  A whistle-blower is:

1.  Someone with the courage to come forward even though the likelihood of retribution is high;
2.  Someone who is not swayed by fitting in or being popular among co-workers;
4.  Someone who puts the good of society above his or her personal interests.

There are not many whistle-blowers because being a whistle-blower can ruin one's life.  In Snowden's case, he is charged with criminal violations.  If he comes back to this country, he will be prosecuted. Most whistle-blowers, at the very least, forfeit their livelihoods.  Some whistle-blowers become unemployable.  Whistle-blowing affects not only the whistle-blower, but also his or her family.

Ironically, if corporations or governments took whistle-blowers' complaints seriously, the corporations or government would be better off.  Takata would be much less likely to fail if it had heeded experts advice, and lives would have been saved.  Whistle-blowers are generally not looking out for their own self-interest, but looking at society's interest and even the interest of their employers.  Yet, they are vilified, and, at best, fired, and, at worst, criminally or physically attacked.

Whistle-blowers are atypical.  They put others' needs first.  They don't put their jobs, fitting in with co-workers or just getting along over their public responsibilities.  In a sense, the founding fathers of this country, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, were whistle-blowers.  It would have been easier to just get along with the Brits and pay those tea taxes.  Karen Silkwood would have lived a little longer, although she was doomed by her radiation exposure.  Enron might still be in existence if the whistle-blowers had been heeded.

Whistle-blowers are not recognized in this country as heroes, but they are.  Whistle-blowers risk their own well-being for the common good.  i just hope there are many courageous whistleblowers in the future.  Without them, we are all screwed.

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