Over the past few weeks we have been inundated by the 24/7 media cycle, endlessly fascinated bythe alleged child abuse by a Penn State football coach. I couldn’t bring myself to read the grand jury findings, as I have a young son and the idea of anyone doing that to The Boy makes my blood boil. Regarding the perpetrator, I’m with Jay Glazer. But we Americans do take that innocent until proven guilty thing pretty seriously, so we need to let the legal system play it out.

alt textBut the other villains in this story are the Penn State administrators, who evidently looked the other way when presented with enough evidence to demand action. Two of them have been criminally charged, and the president of the university and coaching legend Joe Paterno have been forced out. Of course, we really have no way to know exactly what they knew, but the public sentiment is right: the victims deserved a full and immediate law enforcement investigation. That’s pretty cut and dried.

But what when it isn’t so cut and dried? We security folks are privy to lots of stuff. Sometimes inadvertently, sometimes not so inadvertently, we get to see information that indicates impropriety. Maybe it’s a situation of financial shenanigans. Like Enron or any of the other folks cooking the books during the stock market bubbles. Perhaps it’s adultery by someone you know. Maybe it’s organized crime or drug dealing in your neighborhood.

Wrong is wrong. All three of those examples are wrong, but they also have different risk profiles for coming forward. Many of the folks complicit in the Enron scandal didn’t say anything because they were worried for their jobs – their livelihoods. But still, when you look at it, the right thing to do is to come forward. Is an organization which clearly disregards financial reporting, and systematically cooks the books, a place you would want to work? On the plus side, if you do blow the whistle, you could receive a windfall. Not that you’d use that as motivation, but as Dad told me when I entered the workforce, “No job is worth compromising your integrity.” He’s right.

I love the saying: “A friend helps you move, a real friend helps you move a body.” But is that the case? In our adulterer scenario, do you enable the behavior because of your code of guy (or gal) ethics? Considering the emotional fallout and other ramifications of calling someone out on that, do you just let things go? That’s a decision only you can make, but what’s right is not always easy.

And what about the local drug dealer? That one is tough because there is a real risk of retribution. These bad guys don’t value your life nearly so much as you do, and you can’t negotiate with them (Anonymous tried – ask them how that worked out). They leave people they don’t like hanging by their own intestines under bridges. And then they hunt down the families of their enemies. Do you put yourself in the way of clear physical harm? Ah, the decision is less clear now, isn’t it? Of course bullies and other folks rely on the threat of cement overshoes as the only tool to maintain their position. But what’s the best decision, given your need to protect your family?

So what do you do? Do you speak up or do you shut up? There really are no universal right or wrong answers here, but a set of imperfect choices – all of which can end poorly. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Photo credit: See No Evil originally uploaded by tim ellis