Paul Butler: When it’s time to speak up

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

I was standing in my favorite bagel store recently, waiting for my order to be processed and struck up a conversation with a stranger also waiting for hers.

She started bemoaning how much the area was going downhill, with all the “drug issues.” As a lover of my hometown, I asked her to tell me more.

She went on to explain that during her walks every morning she regularly comes across drug paraphernalia on the paseos. “Can you believe it?” she asked, “We have to step around the needles and ensure our little pooch doesn’t stand on them.”  

My fellow Santa Claritan went on to say how she was also disgusted by the increasing amount of graffiti she notices on the bridges, right here in Awesometown.

It was at this point where I politely interrupted her, to ask if she’d spoke up about what she saw — had she ever called the police or graffiti hotline?

I gave an example where we suspected illegal drug use behind our house — we called the Sheriff’s Department, and within 15 minutes, they were there and dealt with the issue.

I gave another example of being at Hart park and we’d noticed some graffiti on the curbstone. We called the city’s hotline and in a flash, the crew arrived and steam-blasted that graffiti out of existence.

Before she was about to respond, her order arrived and so she hurried out the store, calling back over her shoulder: “We don’t care about reporting what we see —we’re moving to Nashville, when my husband retires.”

And that’s how it went down at Dink’s.  

It got me thinking about, how many neighborhoods have gone to ruin because people simply didn’t speak up. The relevant authorities only have so much personnel resource, and so we as neighbors can be the additional hands and feet to speak up about what we see — ideally also rolling up our sleeves as a volunteer when we can.  

Relating this principle to the workplace, it set me thinking about how many organizations have ruinous cultures, simply because no-one speaks up about issues that should have been dealt with by the relevant authorities — namely, the organization’s leadership. Consider the amount of organizations that have fallen from grace and as a result, went out of existence because people didn’t speak up about what they saw.

Think: Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Anderson, Global Crossing and Tyco International, to name just a few. Internal investigations often validated this fact: many saw something but few people said something.

From our observation at Newleaf Training and Development, there’s nothing that can spread faster across an organization than negativity, gossiping and backbiting if not addressed by leadership — this is the graffiti of the workplace, as they’re really tags of much deeper issues. Likewise, if direct or indirect fraud is allowed to continue within an organization, for example due to pressure to achieve results at all costs — morale will drop.

Why? Well, as human beings we innately know what is right and what is wrong. Few people are willing to speak up and so heads go down instead.

We recently consulted with an organization, which had a very disengaged workforce. It was sad to see, only 24 percent of the employee population were willing to speak up during a survey process we offered — even though we provided various platforms on how such feedback could be provided and assured employees of absolute confidentiality.

How disheartening it must be, for someone to spend so many of their waking hours working at a place where the culture is suboptimal but they won’t speak up, to influence positive change — usually for fear of retribution, or resignation that nothing will change.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world” — so whether we’re talking about our place of work or the place we call home, let’s all commit to speak up and ideally, roll up, (our sleeves) to help improve matters where we can.  It’s people who create neighborhoods and likewise, it’s people who create workplace cultures — good can conquer over bad, if enough people are willing to positively impact change.

If it doesn’t work out, I assume we could all move to Nashville as it sounds like it really is awesome there.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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