Friday, February 7, 2014

Part 2: Corruption and its restraint....more courage and more empathy?

In order to make any quasi-judicial panel on corruption work effectively, the laws and the cultural attitudes on whistle-blowers will have to undergo a substantial transformation.
First, power figures do not take kindly to truth-telling that embarrasses them. Neither do organizations responsible to those in authority. After all, maintaining a perfect public image requires that it not be sullied with negative truths about either the people or the organization itself. Consequently, given that those in power exert the maximum amount and degree of influence on the foundational footings or roots of their specific organization and thereby of the culture generally, laws granting immunity, even support, for those with courage enough to step forward and tell their truth in the face of such a cultural and a legal climate are rare indeed.
It was once the policy at IBM, for example, that all employees were trained to include in their circle of reporting not only their immediate supervisor but also his or her supervisor. In other words, all employees were permitted to go one level above their supervisor if they had a grievance against the decisions of their immediate supervisor. While that policy relaxes the reigns on outlets for venting, it does not support or encourage going above that single level of authority and responsibility.
In most professional organizations, it is a well understood cultural norm that one does not publicly criticise another member of the profession in which one works. In that manner, doctors protect each other, lawyers and teachers and presumably accountants "cover" for each other, in silence. So only clients or patients of those professionals are able to bring a complaint to the professional body overseeing the specific profession. (At least these are the norms in Canada.)
On the other hand, "telling truth to power" is a trait that all leaders encourage in their own tight circle of workers, after also training them to bring any signs of trouble to them directly and not to "go public".
While that may be a mixed message, it is only mixed in the sense of how far the "damage" is permitted to reach. A small circle of workers in a department, or a government ministry, for example, would be expected to bring all hints and rumours and complaints to the table in that department, for immediate address and/or redress. Those seeking to sabotage the ministry from within, (and those people exist in all bureaucracies in all countries) would merely remain silent with information that would or could be damaging to their ministry.
However, we have culturally and collectively protected those in power through the implicit imposition of fear of dismissal, or fear of recriminations, without adequately balancing that goal with its corollary, the protection of the public trust. If and when a worker sees, experiences or even hears of the abuse of the public trust, in the organization or of the people responsible for upholding that trust, there must be in all organizations, the opportunity and the cultural expectation for that information to be brought forward in a manner that it can be dealt with, without causing the "whistle-blower" undo punishment or recriminations.
As a professional consultant, having once found myself in the position (documented elsewhere in this space) of being given specific information about the alcohol dependency of members of an executive team, I brought that information to the CEO privately. Unfortunately, he could not deal with the information in a professional and a compassionate manner, and rather than provide support for those with the problem, he summarily dismissed the consultant. There is no telling the lengths to which people in power, (often the most neurotic of all the people working in any organization) will go to cover up what could be extremely damaging facts, even when those facts can be addressed both compassionately and professionally. Protection of that perfect public image (mask,or persona) trumps dealing with the whole body of truth.
And, in that kind of cultural climate, there is a significant need for education in truth-telling from a very early age. "Tatttle-tales" in the school yard are immediately beaten and ostracized. One of the more frequently used revenge tactics children use against their enemies is to "rat" on them. And of course, getting the truth out on the table has to be taken into consideration along with the betrayal it evokes.
Family secrets, for example, are preserved for generations in some cases,  because no one wanted to incur the wrath of the "elephant" in the room, the alcoholic parent, or the dry drunk, equally as disturbing and troublesome as the alcoholic. We are not generally doing a very good job at a very basic level of developing the kind of courage, confidence and public support for those who need a refuge for their truth telling.
I recall an adolescent co-ed asking if she could see me after school, when she told me that her father had thrown her down the basement stairs the previous night. She needed someone to whom to tell her story, and my advice was for her to seek out the family services worker in her area to bring her truth to a place where she and it could be dealt with. As I did not hear any more about her plight, I assumed that she found the necessary support to change her situation.
On the other side of this "whistle-blower" file, is the question of how to bring about the changes that would implement the new truths in any situation. And that, my friends, is a horse of a very different colour. And we are not very sophisticated in our rehabilitative strategies and tactics. We are, however, much more inclined collectively to seek revenge, punishment, exposure and expulsion.
So we have a dilemma: we need the truth and we need to support and encourage the  truth-telling that brings that truth to the table, while at the same time we also need to recognize and support the balancing of rehabilitation and support for those who would clearly be "found out" in such a process.
And that would require an importing of compassion, sensitivity and empathy that seems to be missing. So the equation grows in its complexity....and in its requirement for inculcating both courage and empathy...neither of which seem to rank very high on the public's radar of personal and or professional expectations.

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