I’ve brought my three sons up to be grasses; tell-tales, clipes, snitches, there are many names for it, and I’m happy with them all.  Needless to say, this is not a popular or common view.  Society has contrived to agree with those that demand silence; that you should never tell on someone else.  Excepting of course in certain circumstances, which can change at any time, where you should hang on to a secret for as long as possible, and only eventually and reluctantly give up information upon threat of sanction, when your reasonably expected obligation has been satisfied.

Of course the silence demanded by others is unfairly called for, by those who haven’t earned it.  They insist that to grass, is to break an unwritten rule of “them against us”, backed up by the threat of violence and social exclusion. Being known as a grass also seemingly tars you, perversely, as untrustworthy.  I say perversely, as only an untrustworthy person would keep a bad secret and not tell others.

The power of bullies is almost always locked into this, and dissipates almost entirely when exposed to public view. I recall distinctly being pinned against the wall in the cloakroom of my primary school by a much older kid.  I said “Listen, you don’t want to hit me. I’m a grass. The first thing I’ll do is tell everyone, including the teacher, and point out everyone else you’ve been bullying too.” He was confused enough to move on.

Of course it’s not only playground bullies and wife-beaters who do this.  In business I have occasionally been invited to partake in unsavoury deals or practices, with the implied threat of trouble if I didn’t keep quiet. My response has been the same as when I was 7.  “You don’t want to involve me in your dodgy affairs, as I’ll only spill the beans as soon as I have the opportunity”.

Right now Julian Assange and Wikileaks are being feted as whistleblowers, which is another word for grasser. You may not agree with the website’s actions, but they are taking a principled stand.  My advice is this: If you are able to stand up for yourself, and be known as a principled tell-tale, you’ll find that these difficult circumstances are usually avoided.  Nip it in the bud, and don’t allow yourself to be compromised.

Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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