In writing about whistleblowers, John Solas talks about those he categorizes as “bad followers.” When abuse happens, the spotlight is shone on poor leadership, but it’s also important to examine the ways in which others contribute to a culture where abuse flourishes.
Solas organizes bad followers into four categories. The first set of followers obey and I devote a whole chapter to this phenomenon in The Bullied Brain: Heal Your Scars and Restore Your Health. The research into compliance, or our tendency to obey orders, is fascinating and relevant to any exploration of whistleblowing.
It’s the second group I want to focus on today. This group forms a more worrisome category that Barbara Kellerman in her study of bad leadership and bad “followership” refers to as “evildoers.”
These individuals have no problem participating in unethical conduct.
In fact, they appear to find conflict and manipulation to be energizing. The private school where I took the whistleblower stance hired in individual like this right in the middle of the crisis.
In the spring after the students reported the abuse, the Headmaster broke his promise to keep student names confidential. He also broke his promise, that encouraged students to speak up, assuring that the teachers would be replaced as coaches the following season.
This was critical to students who feared retaliation for reporting abuse. In late summer, the Headmaster published widely a report written by a lawyer that was so one-sided and unprofessional it was an embarrassment. It was published in full ultimately in The Toronto Star when an award-winning investigative journalist was detailing the school and government coverup of child abuse.
Imagine being a teenager who reported abusive teachers being treated like that after he (along with at least twelve others) had found the courage to speak up and report and those empowered with your protection like the Headmaster sold you down the river.
The faculty—including me—were informed that this lawyer’s report exonerated the teachers and all the allegations of abuse against them and they were celebrated for their “professionalism.” These were teachers who had outright admitted their abuse to the Headmaster who sent me an email afterwards saying that they agreed the worst of it had been done to my son, but they didn’t know it was harmful. Now they were acting publicly in front of our colleagues as if they had been the ones wronged! Months before, one of these teachers had agreed with the Director of the school that due to parental complaints, he should go on probation.
I had not even known this was happening because the school was much more focused on keeping things quiet than on protecting students. This same coach was daily abusing my son and others while also in private meetings with the Director to have him removed. It honestly just boggles my mind.
This Director retired and into the crisis was brought a new Director who fit neatly into John Solas’ description of an evil-doer. That’s a strong word, but it’s unfortunately accurate.
From the day he arrived until the day I resigned in protest, he treated me like I had committed the crime of truth and that was unforgivable at that kind of school.
You were awarded for ensuring parents were kept in the dark, other faculty were lied to, lawyers could be hired to write one-sided reports, and most of all, that students who reported abuse were treated as if they were not victims, but perpetrators of harm to respected teachers.
I only ever emailed him when the teachers were targeting my son in that final hellish year and he would respond as if perplexed at what I was asking, confused because I sounded so hysterical, surprised that this closed issue was being opened up by me again and so on. He wanted me to come and speak to him which I had learned the hard way was code for “we don’t want a record, please no emails.”
I never spoke to him. The school had even issued a “Code of Conduct” that asked parents and students not to put their reports of abusive conduct into emails.
It was almost funny it was so bad. The new Director arrived on campus telling people he was there to “clean up a mess.” Really? You mean aiding and abetting child abuse is seen by you as “cleaning up a mess”? The students under your power and authority are creating a “mess” by reporting that they are being abused? That’s the sort of person who needs little enticement to engage in unethical behavior.
Being a whistleblower in this kind of culture, it’s very important not to lose your mind or you become what they’re pushing you to do.
They want you to become hysterical.
At every single faculty meeting that occurred at least twice a week, I said not a word. I made my face blank of all emotion and simply observed. It was kind of like a mindful retreat. You maintain your power by remaining calm, cool, and collected. They never did get at my son either since he’s blessed with a steely comportment.
The last two categories of bad followers are more relatable to me. The third set obeys the leader because they are unsure what to believe; they lack resolve and confidence and of course they fear being bullied. They watch the whistleblower being driven out and can well imagine that being their fate if they dare to speak up and question what’s happening.
The last group are defined by indifference. They just don’t really care. Fair enough, when you think about the sorts of other pressures or challenges or tragedies in people’s lives. Hardly surprising to me that there is a large group who does not question bad leadership out of fear and hardly surprising to me that there is another group who is unable to take on a crisis as terrible as child abuse and so leaves it to those in power.
The ones who truly should trouble us all are those new hires brought into these crises and although they are new on the scene, they seem more than ready to victim-blame children who have reported abuse.
In our situation, there was the new Director and an even more serious “evil-doer” the new Commissioner for Teacher Regulation. It’s utterly remarkable that this eighty year old came out of retirement to take over the position and over the course of an endless year and a half, he decided that somehow all the students who reported were in the wrong and the teachers would be quietly, privately exonerated and no one was allowed to see his reasoning as to why this would be (except for unlucky me).
As the owner of his “reasoning,” I know exactly why he did not want anyone to see it. All reports are fundamentally flawed, full of glaring errors, refer to inappropriate legislation, misuse his own legal rules. Amazing.
Like I said, if you take the whistleblower path be prepared for evil-doers who are invigorated by wrong-doing, profit from it, have no ethics that get in the way of supporting bad leadership. It’s important not lose your mind.
The more clear-headed and mindful you remain, the more you can work towards positive change and a world where kids are free to pursue school, sports, home life, religion, work, arts and clubs without being abused.