THE BLOG
09/08/2015 10:28 am ET Updated Sep 05, 2016

4 Reasons You Should Blow the Whistle on Unethical Behavior

I have a confession: I am too trusting of other people. But I believe that is because I am a trustworthy person. If you don't see the connection between being trusting and trustworthy, let me explain it to you. Like most people, I live in my own little "bubble." In other words, I see the world through my own values, beliefs, and personality characteristics. That sounds like I'm a selfish person, but I don't think I am; I am also able to express empathy quite well. But it does make me gullible at times.

Because I am trustworthy, I automatically assume other people are as well. I know, you're probably shaking your head and laughing out loud at me right now! But I think the reason I trust too much is because I was raised by trustworthy parents who set the standard for my behavior - as well as the expectations of behavior in other people. That's why I have gotten fooled in the past by trusting too much.

I've gotten burned by this in my life. One incident in particular involves a family member of mine who not only was acting unethically toward me, I believe she is probably a pathological liar. I don't say that to sound like a finger-pointing, name-calling person. It's merely what I literally believe to be true. I think this person has lied so much in her life that she has come to the point in her life where she actually believes her lies. And as a result, she lives in her own little fantasy world that is constructed by her untruths.

Several years ago, she asked if I wanted to get in on an investment opportunity. It sounded like a dream come true - which should have been my first red flag! So, I did. In the years that have passed, not only have I not seen a dime of my money or a return on my investment, she simply has stopped talking about it. Whenever I ask her what's going on, she is vague, elusive, and defensive (another big red flag!). Since then, I have also talked to many other friends of hers who says she did the same thing to them. She has also presented them with "investment opportunities" and asked to borrow money for her personal use. After hearing this, my intuition started to tell me that she was running some sort of Ponzi scheme. Although I have no proof, I know that something is definitely not right.

Another friend borrowed a significant amount of money from me too several years ago - and has never paid me back. Meanwhile, she took her family on vacation and did all sorts of other expensive things without paying me back a dime. Yes, I know. You're now using all of these words to describe me: gullible, foolish, crazy, what-the-heck-was-she-thinking...and the list goes on. I'm right there with you! I've called myself all of these things too!

Another recurring unethical situation that happens to me is cheating in the classroom, since I am a professor. While I am a big believer in karma, I can't just sit back and hope that fate teaches the cheaters a lesson. I have to take matters into my own hands by using resources like Turnitin.com. I once caught a student who plagiarized almost all of her research paper by cutting and pasting huge sections of scholarly articles into one, ridiculously well-written paper. It was easy to recognize that the work was not her own, because on her previous papers, her writing was horrible. So the sudden miraculous change in her writing style was a huge sign that it was plagiarized.

I don't tell you these stories to make me look crazy, have you pity me, make the other people look bad, or to embarrass myself with my overly-trusting-gullible personality. I tell you these things to give examples of some of the unethical behavior that has gone on around me. And I'm sure you can probably relate to these too!

Bad behavior is everywhere! So should you blow the whistle or should you stay quiet? Blowing the whistle takes a lot of courage, but in my humble opinion, I think that it's the best course of action in the long run. And here are some reasons why:

1. If you don't blow the whistle, it just reinforces the bad behavior.

When people do something wrong, somewhere in the back of their minds they are expecting to get caught. And when they don't, part of them says "Hey this is great! I'm getting away with it. Let's keep doing it!" It's rewarding the bad behavior. And it might even get worse as time goes on. In fact, it most likely will. So it's best to stop it as soon as you can.

2. If you don't blow the whistle, they don't learn their lesson.

If I let my students get away with cheating, then who knows what they would do once they get into the business world? Embezzlement happens all of the time. Even if it's something not as serious, actions like workplace lying and back-stabbing also seem to be an epidemic. If these people aren't caught, held responsible, and punished appropriately, then they just won't "get it."

3. If you don't blow the whistle, your reputation may be on the line.

If one of my students witnessed someone else cheating, and they know that I saw it too, what would they think of me if I didn't report it? My reputation would be tarnished. Or if someone in your workplace knows that you have information about some illegal activity, they might think that you are involved - even if you're not. So sometimes it's best to blow the whistle just to protect yourself.

4. If you don't blow the whistle, it could cause many people negative consequences.

Sometimes, the unethical behavior is way more serious than cheating on a test or not paying back money that they owe someone. Millions of innocent people are hurt by the wrong doings of others on a regular basis. Think about all the scams we hear about in the news. From Bernie Mader on Wall Street to big corporations, it seems like there way too many situations that call for whistle-blowing. So many people's lives have been ruined by crooks! So I think it's better to blow the whistle. But before you do, make sure you do your research - especially the do's and the don'ts.

Making the decision to uncover sketchy or illegal behavior is not an easy one. But think about this. What if everyone in the world held the unethical people accountable for their actions? Maybe, just maybe, there would be less bad behavior the world. Perhaps I'm naïve about that, but if your whistle-blowing actions can help just one person, then it's worth it.