An open letter to civil servants everywhere (but especially in America)
I first published this letter to civil servants everywhere on 29 January, 2017. In light of recent events — Black Lives Matter and the Stupid Fucking Virus™ — it seems timely to republish it because its more relevant than ever.
Dear civil servants everywhere (but especially in America),
You have an important job to do. And it is more important than ever.
Your job is to speak up and out about things that happen in the government organisations in which you work that you know are not right, or are criminal, or even downright psychopathic.
I know that you worry about what will happen to you personally and professionally if you speak up and out. You have a mortgage, maybe two. You are pregnant, or thinking about starting a family. You have kids in a private school, or in college. You have worked hard to be where you are in your career.
I know you are scared.
But the safety of the entire world depends on you being heard — your collective voices being heard.
I know how hard this is. I’ve been there.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ~ Edmund Burke
I know that many of your leaders (and I use that term loosely) will try to silence you through various means and nefarious ways: they will disrespect and dismiss your views, gaslight you, ostracise and bully you, demote you and perhaps even try to fire you. They will do this because they have their own fears, and you frighten them. You will feel like you are nuts because you don’t subscribe to the corporate propaganda that is being fed to you.
Trust me on this: you are not nuts. You are completely sane.
There are three human foibles that stop others speaking up and out, and they happen all the time in government organisations. I am telling you about them here so you are aware of what is happening. It happened in Nazi Germany.
I know that most of your leaders (and I use that term loosely) will try to silence you through various means and nefarious ways: they will disrespect and dismiss your views, gaslight you, ostracise and bully you, demote you and perhaps even try to fire you. They will do this because they have their own fears, and you frighten them. You will feel like you are nuts because you don’t subscribe to the corporate propaganda that is being fed to you.
Firstly, deference to people in authority. If humans are told (ordered) to do something by a person in authority, nine times out of ten they will, because personal responsibility for the act can be shifted to the person doing the ordering. If a leader orders website content to be deleted or tweets to cease or a wall to be built, minions will carry out these orders because it’s not them personally doing the ordering it, it’s someone else. And they see what happens to people who don’t do as they are told…
Secondly, roles. If a person assumes a powerful role, irrespective of whether they are qualified to take on that role, people will defer to that person. Power is invisible and completely made up, but unfortunately, it’s human nature to prefer a hierarchy—it stops us having to think too much. This, more than any other time in recent history, is a time when we should be thinking. And questioning. And critiquing…
Thirdly, groupthink. If humans are in a social situation, for example, a work meeting, it is almost impossible for an individual to go against the prevailing or dominant view. There is immense pressure to conform to the group, irrespective of how dangerous conformity is. Saying, I don’t think that’s a good idea, when everyone else appears to think it is can be social apartheid. Humans are social animals and hate not belonging and will agree with an idea even if it’s the most stupid and dangerous idea in the world.
Fourthly, increments. No big thing happens overnight. Things happen in small, incremental steps. One small thing, then another, then another, until we realise that our way of life—and our freedom—has been fundamentally altered. We don’t know how it happened, because we haven’t been paying attention or can’t be bothered taking action or we’re worried about what will become of us if we challenge the status quo, even if we don’t agree with it.
But know this: you are not alone. And you have more power than you think.
The whole world is behind you, cheering you on. We need heroes and heroines, now at this time more than any other.
We need people to say: that’s not right or that’s unlawful or I’m not doing that or are you insane? or even have we totally forgotten what happened in Nazi Germany?
We need good people in government organisations to stand together to say they these things.
We need you to say these things.
And we need you to say them now, before it’s too late.
PS – You are definitely not alone. Good people are speaking up and out.