And those which are maybe less dangerous than those who aren’t.
In an old 2005 study, which findings are very similar to others of the same type, 84% of medical doctors in a particular set up had seen other health care colleagues taking dangerous shortcuts but did not say anything. 88% of doctors said they worked with people who showed ‘poor clinical judgement’, but they did not say anything. The percentage of clinical staff, including physicians and nurses who called out these things and confronted colleagues did not reach 10%.
In my consulting experience with financial services, I have seen data that showed that some ‘internal tribes’ in a particular banking institution (and I have reasons to believe that, at that time, it was similar in others) run on an unspoken silence scheme. In particular the ‘trading desks’ that functioned as an institution within the institution and crossed the ethical borders as easy as getting a sandwich for lunch, with many co-workers seeing it but never escalating the issue or even flagging it.
Although in many instances of institutional child abuse the cases remain tragically private, it is clear that also in many cases ‘people knew’ but kept quiet. History contains multiple examples of widespread atrocities that although perpetrated by an elite of some sort, were well known by a silent large population.
You can get as psychoanalytic as you want and present a deep and complicated theory of complex repressed sexuality (child abuse), or a theory of hidden collective hatred (holocaust, crimes against humanity), or collective relinquished responsibility, or a conspiracy, or coverup (traders, health care) but, as far as I am concerned, it all has a common glue word: power. And a tag line: and getting away with it because its reinforced daily by silence.
It’s not sex, it’s power. It’s not ‘lack of training in ethics’, its power. (At some point a large financial institute announced with big media noise that it was sending thousand of executives to a well known business school to attend courses on ethics. Fascinating!).
Those who abuse power also abuse people. Those abused have usually little power. But everybody else ‘who knows’ has the power to call out, to challenge the toxic attitudes and behaviours. As behaviours, these interventions would be contagious, would be copied, imitated, spread. All it takes is for somebody to start.
I have given this recommendation a million times: don’t do it on your own. This is where it gets very hard and fails to spread. Challenging the boss, the colleague, the elder, the senior, the expert, the never challenged, etc, may be heroic. Very simply, don’t play hero here. Join forces with others, even if very small. Maybe a duo, a trio.
The problem with silent minorities is the silent majority they live within. And there are silent minorities who are power-abused in our business organizations, in the Church, in the macrosocial arena, in private homes and public spheres, in the entertainment industry and in the non-entertainment industry. Everywhere.
But all it takes is to challenge those toxicities. It’s pure behavioural change, not conceptual indoctrination and training. If you want leadership, spread the ‘speak up’ behaviour.