“Say, what you wanna say, and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.” Recently I heard on the radio the song “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles (written along with Jack Antonoff). I first heard it a couple of years ago and it is probably my favorite music video – the one where people are dancing at various public locations around Los Angeles. She was inspired to write the song as an encouragement to a friend to speak out, and not be afraid. But, it can apply to anyone who is afraid to speak out.
Hearing “Brave” made me think about people who are afraid to speak out because they fear reprisal. On college campuses students and professors are being targeted if they are not politically correct, which often equates to not being sufficiently liberal politically. (Who knew that liberal arts would mean you must be liberal?) Now teachers and students are targets if they say anything that might in any way be construed as a criticism of or possibly offensive to anyone else. I call it “intolerance for tolerance’s sake.”
In climate science those who disagree with the notion that most of climate change is man-made are ostracized, have difficulty getting funding for research, and their research may be denied publication. Government employees are afraid of reprisals if they speak out or reveal unlawful or unethical conduct by senior management. This is still the case, despite assurances by high officials and even President Obama that they would be free of reprisals for whistle-blowing.
When I worked at the Department of the Interior I would speak up if I thought something could be done better, but also if I thought something was not right. That included how employees were left out of decisions and opportunities. It also included questioning decisions made by senior management and political appointees. I was able to do this without reprisal. Perhaps I was respected because I was careful to speak against policies or practices and not make personal attacks. Was I being brave or foolish?
Others would come to me and ask me to express their concern or complaint. If I shared the concern I might do so, but if it was not a concern of mine I would tell them they must to do it themselves. Most were reluctant to speak out; they were afraid of reprisals. Were they justly afraid?
I read in an article in FedSmith (fedsmith.com, a private-sector newsletter for government employees) that whistle-blowers were often subject to reprisal, and when they took their complaints to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) they almost always lost. It is apparently extremely difficult to prove that adverse personnel actions are a reprisal for speaking out about illegal or unethical behavior, even if that behavior was proven to be true and the alleged reprisal immediately followed. So the FLRA is reluctant to act to protect whistle-blowers.
From what I know the fear of reprisals is justified. The fear of professors on college campuses is justified. Will that change with a new administration? Possibly, for government employees, but I doubt it. For the fear on campuses it will require a change in the public dialogue about what is okay to say in public. It really comes down to our First Amendment right to free speech. We all need to be brave enough to say what we want to say, and confident enough in ourselves to withstand what others may say. I want to see you be brave.
Featured image from http://www.directlyrics.com/sara-bareilles-brave-news.html. You can also see the video at this site, or search for “Sara Bareilles Brave.”