Whistleblowers, Know Thyself

Over the years in my role as psychiatrist I have heard from a number of scapegoated whistleblowers. Now I am hearing from some of them on this blog. Wikipedia defines whistleblower as a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department or private company or organization. It mentions that the whistleblowers frequently face reprisals at the hands of those accused and sometimes under the law! More of a surprise to me was that the first legal protection in the U.S. was begun in 1863. A venerable profession indeed!

It certainly makes financial, logical and emotional sense for a Whistleblowing.pdfwhistleblower to be scapegoated by the group they attack, whether the group is acting improperly or not. Groups naturally defend their boundaries against both internal and external enemies. The scapegoating dynamic strengthens the group by uniting against a convenient negative focus, which we call the scapegoat, an ancient effigy indeed. So what better focus for a group eager to export their threatening problems than to equate scapegoat and whistleblower.

There are many support groups for whistleblowers, and I hope they are valuable for the participants. Some of you have told me that these groups tend to obsess about unfair outcomes. In a perfect world, the whistleblower, in particular, and the scapegoat in general, should be welcomed; they hold much for organizational and group  creativity and shouldn’t be exported just because their message poses a threat to the group and its leadership. On the contrary, good leaders should and occasionally do, reach out and protect them. The reality however is that people entering into the whistleblower world need to plan for a long and difficult haul. The truth they believe they speak will rarely be welcomed. Every whistleblower, fueled by outrage and zeal, must carefully consider their major risks, especially the psychological costs. It’s like redoing a kitchen; multiply your estimate of risk and punishment by 300% and you’ll be close!

Whistleblowers are legal entities but their behavior is ubiquitous. Take woman being sexually harassed. A recent scandal in New York (repeated so often nowadays it’s hardly news) gave details of complaints filed against Vita J. Lopez for groping and otherwise assaulting eight female employees. Cover ups followed. Secrecy clauses were inserted after settlements were agreed upon. The women continued to be ostracized. Initially they had been afraid to complain fearing for their jobs. They were right.

It’s been almost 150 years since laws were passed protecting whistleblowers. It clearly needs frequent updating. Continued abuse and protectionism explain why there are so many movies and novels, including my own, that find extralegal ways to deal the abuse of truth. Check out revengeincthrillers.com and particularly my new one Revenge of the Scapegoat (available on Amazon).

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