Job security and speaking truth to power

During the 20 years I reported on business for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, I was surprised at how many people were afraid to speak freely because of the consequences to their careers or chances of getting a job.

About the only people I ever met who were willing to speak as if they were free Americans were:

  • Self-employed professionals such as physicians and lawyers.
  • Self-employed craftsmen such as plumbers and electricians.
  • Owners of small businesses that served the public (not sub-contractors)
  • Tenured college professors.
  • Civil servants (provided they were speaking about their area of responsibility and not political issues).
  • Labor leaders and members of strong labor unions.

Many years ago I read David Kearns’ memoir of his years as CEO of Xerox Corp.  (I no longer have the book and don’t remember the title).  In one chapter, he described a meeting he held with workers at Xerox’s Webster, N.Y., plant about problems with a new model of copier.

He told how the president of the union local replied, “Why didn’t you ask us, Dave?  We could have told you it was no good.”

My impression is that Kearns thought he deserved credit for not getting angry at the union representative.   But, actually, what he should have done was to arrange to meet with him once every six or twelve months.

If you are in a position of authority, someone who will tell you the truth is invaluable.  But few in a position of authority want to hear inconvenient truths.  Hence functional stupidity.

Of course labor unions are organizations, too, and subject to everything described by Mats Alvesson and André Spicer in The Stupidity Paradox.   But as a general rule, stronger labor unions would foster more truth-telling and less stupidity.

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One Response to “Job security and speaking truth to power”

  1. ashiftinconsciousness Says:

    Far too many people are afraid of truth. We’re becoming more entangled in prison cells of ignorance where we vent frustration into echo chambers filled with people ideologically similar and, because of this, have nothing to teach us.

    Yes, I went a bit off subject, but there is a connection. Instead of learning from those with something to say, everyone feels entitled to put information out on the internet, including false information or ridiculous subject matter that merely increases obsession with simple-minded drivel – therefore increasing stupidity – despite the fact that we have a wonderful tool for disseminating important information.

    Of course, I don’t want to appear to approve of censorship or want to limit free speech. I’m just pointing out our distorted priorities as a society.


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