In early 2014, an employee of the multi-billion dollar medical company Theranos began to worry that the company may be engaged in fraudulent activities. Despite being a relatively low-level employee in his early twenties, he decided to do something about it. So he wrote a letter to the company’s CEO outlining the problems as he saw them. The response? A nasty, dismissive note from the company president. Undeterred and convinced the public had a right to know about these problems, the employee then contacted authorities in New York City and a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
In time, almost all of the employee’s concerns would be validated in the media and in subsequent investigations. High-flying Theranos would see its business crumble, its billionaire founder’s wealth would evaporate, and the company would be banned from its core business activity for two years by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In 2018, it was charged by the S.E.C. for years-long fraud of deceiving investors and lying to the public.
Obviously things worked out well for the whistleblower right? Wrong. Not only was this young man repeatedly threatened, bullied and attacked by Theranos, but his family had to consider selling their house to pay for the legal bills. His relationship with his grandfather—who sat on the Theranos board—is strained and perhaps irreparable. The Wall Street Journal reported that his parents have spent more than $400,000 dollars defending their son in the matter.
It’s an important reminder. Doing the right thing isn’t free. Doing the right thing might even cost you everything. And yet, the Stoics would remind us that this should have absolutely no bearing on whether we should do it or not. As Marcus Aurelius reminded himself, and us: “Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter. Cold or warm. Tired or well-rested. Despised or honored.”
This young man did the right thing as he saw it. It cost him and his family an incredible amount. It cost people that he loved and respected—even though they were doing the wrong thing—an incredible amount. But it was the right thing. He refused to be silenced. He would not countenance to bullying.
The modern Stoic writer Nassim Taleb has a famous epigram: “If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” Tyler, the young man in question, believed he was faced with this choice—despised or honored for it—he did what he believed he had to do. His parents summed it up well in a statement: “Tyler has acted exactly like the man we raised him to be, and we are extraordinarily proud of him.”
This philosophy you’re reading about is raising you the same way. Now the question remains: Will you do the right thing when it counts? When it could cost you everything?
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