Although certainly not the last word I enjoyed this thoughtful essay (despite the awful formatting):
Whistleblowers: the psychological dimensions of defying a perverse or corrupt authority
by David Morgan, Psychoanalyst
Do not trust the Horse, Trojans, Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks bearing gifts.
The first whistleblower was Laocoon, who, 3,000 years ago, tried to tip off the authorities in ancient Troy that the Greeks and their ‘gift horse’ was a trick. He was later murdered for his pains, ‘when it comes to speaking out, one man’s whistleblower can be another man’s traitor.’ Failure to blow the whistle is famously illustrated in “First they came…”, a provocative poem attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the sloth of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their targets, group after group.
First they came for the dissidents
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a dissident.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Films are made about famous whistleblowers and their place as A-list celebrities seems assured to us on-lookers. Through their disclosing acts they, rather than governments and leaders, become the important ones it could seem to us. But for most of the people I have seen since becoming a consultant for a whistleblowing organisation it is a very different story. Everyday whistleblowers, those whose name does not become a public entity, mainly experience loss, not gain, through their decision to disclose. And whatever it is that they disclose, in all the many fields these people emerge from, armed forces, banking, law, politics, ship building, health, police force, church, psychoanalysis (see BPC New Associations 12, article by Onel Brooks), whistleblowers that I have met are waiting to have their lives turned upside down, their comfortable places of esteem in their communities dismantled, and, equally importantly, from a psychological point of view, they have lost their peace of mind and quite often their own faith in their own and others value and motives. What motivates a whistleblower and what is the psychological profile of people who risk, or gain – depending on where we stand – so much? Also what does it tell us about society and our own organisations if we fear the message whistleblowers try to communicate?
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