When I was younger, my mom had a daily calendar on her desk in the living room. She almost never peeled back the dates, and it sat there for years among a pile of papers and other clutter. One day, when I was bored, I picked it up and read through each day’s quotes and one stuck in my mind:
Gabe Howard is a professional speaker, award-winning writer, and activist who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. Diagnosed in 2003, he has made it his mission to put a human face on mental illness. He is the recipient of the 2014 Mental Health America Norman Guitry Award, placed second in HealthCentral’s LiveBold competition, was a 2015 WEGO Health Awards Finalist in the Health Activist Category, as well as received a Best of the Web – Blog award.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
“I didn’t say it was going to be easy; I said it was going to be worth it.”
I like this quote for a number of reasons. It’s short, inspirational, and vague enough to apply to just about any difficult situation. As I look at the situation I am in now, with all the positive potential and all the possible negatives, I keep repeating the last part of the quote in my head:
“. . .I said it was going to be worth it.”
Doing the Right Thing Doesn’t Mean There Aren’t Negative Repercussions
Over the past few weeks, I have found myself in a tough spot. As part of my responsibilities to an agency where I volunteer, it is my job to help prevent mismanagement and fraud, and ensure the integrity of the organization.
In a perfect world, everything would hum along without issue and that position would be relatively unnecessary. In essence, it would be the human version of a smoke detector – sitting around waiting for something to happen and hoping the battery didn’t die.
However, the position I hold is invaluable if something is amiss and, just like a smoke detector, it’s my job to warn people of danger. In order to do this, I must first draw the attention of others, then report what I saw.
And, unfortunately, that kind of thing puts a giant target on a person’s back. It doesn’t matter if you are a corporate whistleblower, witness in a court case, or exposing any other sort of injustice – when you stand up against wrongdoing, it’s going to elicit some sort of response. In a perfect world, the truth would stand alone. However, the world is complicated and often the person reporting the issues becomes the enemy of the person they are reporting.
The problem with exposing the misdeeds of people who lack integrity is that they will often say and do unseemly things to protect themselves. Truth is of little consequence to them. The standard game plan is to attack the person exposing the wrongdoing in the hope that this will cause people to not take that person seriously.
Doing the right thing can cause the most stable among us massive amounts of anxiety and stress. Doing the right thing is complicated further when living with an anxiety disorder or other mental illness. Being attacked for standing up for what you believe in is extra stressful because, while the truth will eventually set you free, first it’ll drag you through hell.
The Truth Doesn’t Change, Even When You’re Being Threatened
I can’t change the truth just because I’m being threatened. As much as the attacks on my personal character hurt, the truth remains the truth. As an ethical person acting with integrity, I don’t alter the facts just because my feelings are hurt.
It’s horrible having to watch all I have built be called into question. I suffer the consequences of sleepless nights, sadness, and damaged reputation. I hear the whispers, field the questions, and get stuck with the negative aspects of having my integrity disputed.
Knowing the only reason this is happening is because I did the right thing makes the entire thing incredibly unfair. Would I have been better off to have kept my mouth shut? My anxiety disorder and paranoia kicks into overdrive, making me wonder who I can trust and who believes the lies they’ve heard about me. I watch as people who used to be friends pull away and am put in the awkward position of not knowing what circumstance led to that distance.
During my darkest hour in this entire mess, all I can really think of is that damn smoke detector. It “sees” smoke and it chirps – loudly. It doesn’t consider the politics or wonder if it should get involved or consider if the timing is right. Smoke equals chirping and the detector stands by its decision until it’s literally incapable of carrying on. Our integrity must be as unwavering as a smoke detector’s.
We’ve all gotten into a fight with one. We wave our hands in front of it, open windows and doors, and attack it with a broom handle. And when we finally silence it, one thing is undeniably true:
It’s absolutely certain we know there is smoke in the room.