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If we Decide to Stay

Despite the moral demand to leave, a follower may choose to stay—the price of leaving may simply be too high. Courage is not absolute. We cannot judge another for making this choice unless we ourselves have faced it.

If we decide to stay, we may justify our decision on the grounds that if all the “moderate” people in the organization left, it would only become more extreme and harmful. There is some functional truth to this. It can require courage to remain in an organization whose values we do not share and whose excesses we intend to curb. It is a very unpleasant experience to continue dealing with people whose style and activities we abhor. But if our departure leaves them freer to abuse power, there is a moral argument to be made for staying.

If we make the choice to stay we must be prepared for several things:

We must accept moral and legal responsibility for the tacit or actual support we are giving to the abuse.

We can never claim before a legal or moral court that “we had no choice.”

We must take incremental action at every opportunity to diminish the abuses and the impact they have on their victims.

We must take bold action to reform the organization when the moment for change presents itself and our stand can make a difference.

In more typical situations, people often stay despite a discomfort with the current leadership. They calculate that, for a variety of reasons, the tenure of the current leadership is limited. They are hopeful that its successors will be more compatible with their own philosophy or style and that the situation will correct itself. In the interim, they do what they can to forward the common purpose.

In extreme situations, this “wait it out” strategy may not be viable. The decision to stay as a moderating force is filled with as much risk as the decision to leave. It is the equivalent of becoming a “fifth column” in hostile territory. The follower who chooses to stay in these circumstances may pay with peace of mind or worse.

As is true for all moral decisions, the decision to stay in the face of morally unacceptable behavior must be made with as much honesty about one’s own motivations and actions as about the actions of others. The courage to take moral action of any type in full knowledge of its attendant risks is the mark of significant development as a human being. Whatever the consequences of one’s actions, when they are faced with one’s integrity intact, moral behavior has already won.