The Whistleblower’s Dilemma


“Doing the right thing” can often be one of life’s greatest challenges, but what is the right thing to do when a person with a strong conscience becomes aware of instances when people chose to do the wrong thing, especially when this negatively impacts on others?

A dilemma has been described as “a predicament that seemingly defies a satisfactory solution”. Knowledge of a wrongdoing can put someone in a difficult position, especially if those responsible fail to rectify the situation.

The initial tendency of the culpable can often be to Cover Up rather than Own Up, resulting in a potentially catastrophic impact on interpersonal trust and organisational reputation should the wrongdoing subsequently come to light. When it does, those who chose to Cover Up may have preferred they had chosen the more courageous option of Owning Up. Considering the potential impact on Trust and Reputation before engaging in a dubious action can prevent such calamities arising.

Wim Vandekerckhove describes a whistleblower as “a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organisation that is either private or public”.

This 1999 article from Ireland’s Sunday Business Post newspaper discusses the challenges those who consider exposing wrongdoing may face. Potentially becoming vulnerable to retaliation, having their motives and loyalty challenged and private lives damaged when the Cover Up is exposed, particularly when the wrongdoers choose to diminish their prospects of reputational recovery by responding in the manner which Crisis Communication experts least recommend – “Attacking the Accuser”, can place good people  in the situation of facing “the whistleblower’s dilemma”.

Weighed up against these consequences, many people of integrity nevertheless often choose what they see as the greater good associated with “doing the right thing”.

But to whom does ultimate loyalty lie?

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