Intelligent Disobedience in the Workplace

I received this noteworthy example of Intelligent Disobedience from a colleague named Yael Schy. Her story is instructive:

I have a workplace example of Intelligent Disobedience when I was Director of Social Policy for a national woman’s organization. It was strapped for funds, and was having to make lots of layoffs.

My supervisor came to me and told me that the organization had been approached by the Phillip Morris company to submit a grant proposal to do a project on preventing hunger. I have asthma and have long opposed Big Tobacco companies. At the time, I was also in the middle of a national health care study for the organization. I took as deep a breath as I could and told her that I thought this was a bad idea—that it would be a mistake for the organization to take money from Phillip Morris, that it would tarnish our reputation, and that we would likely lose members. I also told her that I couldn’t possibly do a good job of writing that grant proposal, because it went against everything I believed in, and therefore my heart would not be in it.

I went home that night fully expecting to be fired for insubordination—especially since the organization was laying off so many staff. The next day when I came in, my supervisor called me into her office. My immediate thought was ‘Oh no, here it comes—I’m about to be fired!’ She took her own deep breath and told me that she had had a rough night and had to make a tough decision. I winced and told her that I hadn’t slept either. Then she said, ‘I decided that you’re right—we won’t apply to Phillip Morris for a grant, no matter how much we need the money.

HEW! What a relief! I kept my job, but I had to be willing to walk away, based on the fact that I had been asked to do something that conflicted with my strongly held values.

Intelligent Disobedience in the Workplace
2015 © Ira Chaleff Publications