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Why doesn’t anyone whistle anymore?

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Remember the song “Whistle while you work”? It was made famous in ‘Snow White and Seven Dwarfs.’

When I was young, I also remember that lots of people around me whistled. They whistled in the street, on the tram, the trolley bus, in their car and, yes, at work. Some were very good, some were very bad. Some even whistled at girls, perish the thought. For those not blessed with the whistle gene, a rhythmical hum would usually suffice.

In the end, it didn’t matter, it was a sign of cheeriness and happiness and, sometimes, it was infectious.

Without wanting to sound like a grumpy old man, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone whistling in the street. Instead of walking down the street with a song in our head and on our lips, we now prefer to bow in studied silence to the irresistible sight and sounds of our IPhone. That’s life in the digital age.

But there is another form of whistling that is quite contemporary and even controversial. It is not, however, a portent of happiness. It’s called Whistleblowing – wanting to help a person by telling an authority about someone who has done the wrong thing to that person.

Culturally, we are attuned to not telling on others or ‘snitching’. Legally, (and broadly speaking) we aren’t usually required to tell on others. As a corollary to that as well, the law doesn’t even require us to help others who may need it. We have no ‘duty to rescue’. So, if I was floundering in the Brisbane River one night waving my arms and shouting forlornly, ‘Help Help!’, and you were walking past, you would be quite entitled to ignore me, keep walking and quietly mumble to yourself, ‘Sorry, your time has come.’

That is all very regrettable in certain spheres of human life. I speak of Elder Abuse.

As so much of it is hidden behind doors, curtains or passwords, it is difficult to identify. In many cases, the victim is either unable to complain, or reluctant to. However, some of the best placed people to discover it and do something, are right next door to it – neighbours. Of course, their proximity to the problem creates a conundrum – what will be the consequences for me, and what will my life be like, if I blow the whistle.

Fortunately, our lawmakers have grappled with this problem, to some extent. Provided you have a reasonable basis to blow the whistle, in Queensland, we have a law which protects you from any legal consequences including defamation or other adverse legal consequences.

That can help in making the crucial decision whether to speak up or not. It will never be total protection. It then becomes a moral question for you – is the cost of silence greater than the cost of disclosing?

As usual, the best way to judge that is to get legal advice before deciding.

In the meantime, stay happy, wet the lips and start whistling (or humming).

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