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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tattling to promote yourself

Tattle tales and false leaders

A recent blog post inspired a flurry of comments, mostly anonymous, and some from folks who didn't want their remarks published.* They prompted this post.

Is it wrong to be a “whistleblower?” Clearly not; calling attention to a dangerous situation that needs to be corrected is ethical. However, that’s not the point addressed in the post.

Two good reasons

If intervention by a higher authority is emergently necessary, such as in a situation that involves risk to life or limb, it is the right thing to do. Calling the Police when screams and a gunshot are heard is wise; running out to investigate isn’t. (If the sounds came from your own home it would probably be better to call and intervene simultaneously if you are capable.)

In the case of a situation that’s ongoing and clearly harmful, but isn’t going to change, calling attention is the ethical choice, although often risky. An example would be calling a newspaper or a regulatory agency with a tip about your company clandestinely diverting its sewage into a pristine river.

Tattling to cause harm 

However, calling the “State Bureau of Classic Car Shows” because you lost an election or don't like the new president of your local car club is unethical. Or, calling the federal “Skunk and Weasel Preservation Committee” in Washington D.C. because your City government is starting to study the growth of a neighborhood skunk population – and you fear the results won’t agree with your view -- is wrong.

The city hasn't failed in its study – it’s just starting it. And, it probably will do a thorough and adequate study. However, being diverted to answering queries will waste its time and money.

If you believe that your City won’t do an adequate job of investigating the situation, the question then is, “will this be an emergent situation?” If the City’s study is likely to result in widespread poisoning of all skunks and other creatures that share their diet – immediately -- then reporting would be ethical. If there’s a process starting that requires reviews, plans, and funding over three to six months, waiting for the committee’s report is honest and disputing the solutions is ethical; reporting the committee or the problem to other agencies to cause a fuss isn’t.

To save or to disrupt is the question

Another question that should be asked is, “Why are we reporting the city?” If the purpose is to save a population of creatures, or a cherished landform from immediate destruction the intervention is appropriate. If the purpose is to try to embarrass a political opponent it’s not only unethical, it’s egregious. Representative government should not be saddled with wastes of time and money by the disgruntled.

We learned in Kindergarten that sometimes we lose; then we join forces with the winners to make the situation better. An illustration straight from Wikipedia:

“(John) Wayne supported Vice President Richard Nixon in the presidential election of 1960, but expressed his vision of patriotism when John F Kennedy won the election: 'I didn't vote for him but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job.'"

“Whistle-blowing” to get even with political opponents – or to set up a campaign – smacks of disloyalty. In Costa Mesa it’s reflecting adversely on the Public Services Department. That department is ethically and effectively managed by an excellent executive. Maligning the Director and his department to try to get a political advantage is dishonest,
disloyal and disruptive.
The citizens of Costa Mesa should ignore and deplore such egregious, self-serving political tactics.

*That post:  Here


  1. Slightly different, but just as egregious, is when a current councilwoman (although this occurred a couple years ago and she was just seated as a councilwoman last December) went to our neighboring city of Huntington Beach. At the city council meeting there she went to the microphone and gave an oration telling HB not to partner with Costa Mesa concerning use of their helicopter program. Fortunately that city council did not listen to her and we now have their helicopters assisting our police and providing air coverage to help apprehend criminals. But she was willing to sell out our city as political revenge and give us less crime fighting tools. Now her allies are the ones saying how unsafe our city is (wrong) and apparently giving her a pass for her anti safety antics. I still have the tape of that meeting and her comments somewhere in my files if anyone thinks this is too farfetched to imagine.

    1. Good point, Jim. Disloyalty, like all unethical behavior, is counterproductive. Many of us learn about dealing with disappointment as children. Some of us, apparently, feel so entitled -- or perhaps "royal" -- that we "kick the ankles" of those who thwart us.

      Too bad we can't require a "retake" of Kindergarten just as we require retakes of driving tests for those who show that they "just don't understand."