Disloyal honesty – ever been caught out?

There is a strong undercurrent in Australian culture not to be the person that ‘dobs in’. That is, we actively discourage people from reporting illegal or dishonest behaviour.

We act as though it goes against the national psyche. It is a really strange phenomenon, and stems from a culture of resisting oppression and orders from the ruling class.

Do you describe yourself as an honest person?

The basic premise of honesty is so simple: tell the truth as you know it to be. If someone asks you a question about what you know there is only one honest answer, right? Well, no. There are different levels of honesty. More specifically, there are different levels of openness, which provides a big grey area for people to be varying levels of honest.

Then there is the practice of presenting something in a different light. If your answer is different depending on who asks the questions, are you really being honest? For example, you might come home from work and tell your partner that you’re really struggling with your workload and you’re stressed about hitting a deadline.

However, when your manager asks how it’s progressing you chirp up and say it will definitely be ready by the due date. Of course you want to put your best foot forward, but sometimes honesty isn’t as clear cut as we would like to think.

Conflicting interest with dobbing in

There is a lot of stress experienced in reporting any incidents to authorities, and it is really exacerbated by the language we use around it in this country. “Whistle-blowing” and “dobbing” have really powerful negative connotations that really cause us to hesitate in reporting bad behaviour. We have a strong desire to be accepted within our social group.

It is often said that an organisation’s culture is determined more by the social climate within it than by the Code of Ethics that sits in a drawer gathering dust.

If our social standing was the ONLY consideration there wouldn’t be a conflict at all. The problem arises when we consider what is expected of us by our employers, or even more by our conscious and personal set of values. Many organisations will look very unfavourably on employees that turn a blind eye to illegal or unethical practices. This is really difficult for many to deal with, and they’ll often find themselves wishing they didn’t know anything about the situation.

Resolving the conflict

Resolving this conflict forces us to go back to what is important to us. The solution is usually to ignore it because running from the conflict is easier than resolving it. This leaves us very open to a bigger problem down the track. Whilst honesty is the most desirable guiding principle, the more sensitive social fabric needs to be addressed. The middle ground usually involves confronting the person that is overstepping the boundaries of what is acceptable (in your eyes).

It’s such a challenging position to be in, but your integrity is more important than the safety of someone who is doing the wrong thing. Anything short of expressing your disapproval is a tacit statement that you are okay with what is happening. This is how injustices continue and we all can have a hand in it. It takes courage, it takes strength and it may result in conflict.

Eve Ash is a psychologist and filmmaker. Eve welcomes participants to her next MELBOURNE HALF DAY WORKSHOP at AIM St Kilda, March 13, 2013 8.30am: How to Present Yourself and Your Ideas with More Impact.

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