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Brought Into Disrepute

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

A recent news story here described how a teacher from a Catholic School was fired because he supported a protest by pupils of the school. The protest was against comments about same sex marriage made in the school newsletter by the school’s principal.

The specific problem seems to be that employees, while they are entitled to hold any opinion they wish, shouldn’t make that opinion known if it conflicts with the core values of the company or organisation they work for. Or maybe it is more just that employees shouldn’t bring their employer into disrepute.

I think it’s an interesting issue. Should employees be able to criticise their employers, or their workplace in general, if they think it’s justified? Or should they just keep quiet no matter how bad things get? What about if there’s something illegal happening, surely that should be reported? What about something legal but potentially dangerous?

I think that most people would concede that there are situations when an employee should take action even if that contradicts the organisation’s policies or values, or even if it brings the organisation into disrepute. But there are other situations where criticism could be used for trivial or personal reasons, or for purposes related to “office politics”.

So the question is does this situation, which effectively involves a moral issue, fit into the category where it is reasonable to disagree with the official position?

First I would have to observe that the Catholic establishment is hardly in a position to dictate morals given the constant stream of child abuse cases its clergy are involved in. I would also point out that the protest was against the principal’s opinion in the newsletter and not necessarily against an official policy (although that point isn’t clear from the information I have).

So in many ways the principal making his bigoted opinion known was what really brought the school into disrepute, and Catholicism in general has little credibility because of its well publicised atrocities. And yet the school still thinks that a teacher trying to help students make a moral point is the bad person here? Maybe the real issue here is not that the teacher brought the school into disrepute but that he highlighted the disrepute it had already been brought to.

And that’s generally the issue in every organisation and why the management don’t want to enter into any meaningful discussion with their employees. In many cases the management are wrong and cannot defend their decisions. So the last thing they want is for their incompetence or corruption to be highlighted and having a rule about “bringing the organisation into disrepute” might be just an easy way to hide the problems they created.

In my experience everyone knows this and discussions between management and employees I have heard of generally finish with the more senior person just telling the junior one what is going to happen without really justifying it. They don’t justify it because they can’t and they don’t have to – being in management is like a “free pass” to do stupid things without any meaningful checks.

But getting back to the specific example here. In the school’s defence I should say that many parents who send their children to a Catholic school have certain expectations about the opinions and values prevalent at that type of school (whether those values are good or bad is irrelevant) so maybe rejecting socially progressive but contentious issues, such as same-sex marriage, is justified from that perspective.

In my opinion the correct response to disagreement is to engage in reasonable discussion on the issue and point out why the person disagreeing with the official line is wrong (if they are). And if that can’t be done would it not be reasonable to re-examine the official line just in case it actually is inadequate in some way?

But, as I said above, that almost never happens. The same issue occurs in every hierarchical organisation from governments down to community committees. For example, I’m sure the process of governing the country could be greatly improved if every party member’s opinion was taken into consideration and dissenting views were not only tolerated but encouraged. But of course, that would never happen because almost every management structure isn’t there to get the best result but to maintain the privileged position it already enjoys. The last thing they want is change which makes them accountable.

And that, dear readers, is why the world is such a messed up place. The most corrupt, self-serving, and incompetent people (as a rule) are in positions where they can actively suppress the opinions and contributions of more moral, competent, and magnanimous people.

How do we fix it? We can’t, but we should all be aware of how the system works and be aware that those people who bring their organisations into disrepute are more likely to be heroes rather than villains.

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