02/25/2016 09:38 am ET Updated Feb 24, 2017

Whistle-blowing in Our Times

"He who does not bellow the truth when he knows the truth makes himself the accomplice of liars and forgers." - Charles Péguy, poet and essayist (1873-1914)

Some things that were deemed unacceptable not long ago are considered acceptable today. Other things were acceptable until recently, but are now perceived as reprehensible. What happened and how did these shifts in attitudes occur?

Let's look at a few examples. There have been a spate of movies recently that depict companies and organizations promoting harmful, illegal, or immoral practices; selling defective, dangerous, or not-as-depicted or promised products and services; or falsifying, misrepresenting or withholding crucial information. I'm referring to the tobacco, food, sports, firearm, and drug industries as well as banks; toy companies; etc. All have been publicly exposed in the media and on the Internet. There is a new wave of public outcry because this information can now be shared by many more people using social media. There have been whistle blowers who have unearthed the malfeasance.

Whistle blowing targets companies and organizations that have gotten away with fooling consumers, the government, and the public. The truth has been unearthed through independent research by professionals in science, medicine and technology and also by concerned individuals and advocacy groups. Much of what was unknown or seemed appropriate not long ago is no longer so. We now know that the results of health studies were withheld by the tobacco industry while its representatives continued to insist that cigarettes were safe, that professional sports organizations allegedly concealed vital information on the severity of and long-term damage done by head trauma and concussions, and that the Catholic church systematically protected pedophiles.

The stakes can be enormous for the people running these big businesses. Often huge sums of money are involved, as is power. Greed is a driving force. What does it take to come forward and divulge the truth, to say, "Hey, this is not OK"? Anyone who comes forward about the wrongdoings risk may be threatened with being fired, jailed, or even death.

Individuals and consumer groups have uncovered wrongdoings; movie producers have made documentaries; books have been written. Many have had a lasting impact on the public consciousness by changing not only attitudes and behaviors, but, in some cases, policy.

Recently there have been outcries regarding the treatment of animals by dairy and poultry companies. People are demanding that orcas like Shamu not be contained in small spaces. Newspaper articles have described ways prison guards treat certain juvenile offenders, which has already led to discontinuing isolation as punishment. Some of these things were once acceptable, but are no longer. Some were unknown or did not cause outrage.

What all of this does is raise our awareness and consciousness to the ills surrounding us. The world is changing at an incredibly fast pace; due in part to the impact of technology that promotes information distribution to millions within minutes.

Some of the things that were not acceptable just a few years ago -- such as interracial or gay marriage are commonplace today. The whole issue of gender identity is now reverberating through our social consciousness. The struggles of transgendered people (formerly a taboo topic) are now openly discussed -- thanks in part to a book and movie on the subject.

In looking back at our history, we see how some people have raised our consciousness and changed the course of history. Jesus was a whistle blower when he drove the moneylenders from the temple. In the 17th century Galileo was threatened for his theory that the earth revolved around the sun because it was contrary to the Churches' teachings. In more recent times, Gloria Steinem wrote about the disparity of women's salaries and their lack of available opportunities. In 1962, Rachel Carson's book The Silent Spring, uncovered that the use of chemical pesticides by the farming industry was detrimental to birds. Student sit-ins, occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring in 2010, and movies addressing anti-Semitism, prejudice against gays, and even how black house workers were treated in the South -- all contributed to raising our consciousness.

We are living in a time where people demand transparency in organizations, justice, and humane treatment and stand up against corruption, violence, and lies. We are concerned about our environment, our planet, and ultimately about our survival as a species. Let us all keep pulling together in favor of these lofty goals.

It is not easy to stand up to confront the people in charge. There is reason to worry about job security other threats for exposing what is really going on. Our sense of integrity and values may be at stake. It often takes a heroic stand to be a whistle blower. As Bob Dylan sang so perceptively back in 1964, "For the times they are a-changin'."