Reputation is built by the matching of deeds and words. You make a promise, you back it up. Reputations are destroyed by hypocrisy — breaking a promise you have made.
When the broken promise stems from faulty execution, the mea culpa is easier. When the broken promise develops from selfish motives or a lack of character, the damage takes much longer to repair.
The ACLU has some explaining to do.
The organization for decades has tried to become synonymous with “free speech,” yet now is cracking down on stray messages from within. The new guidelines are there to prevent board members from criticizing any aspect of decided policy. Stephanie Strom writes in the New York Times:
“Where an individual director disagrees with a board position on matters of civil liberties policy, the director should refrain from publicly highlighting the fact of such disagreement,” the committee that compiled the standards wrote in its proposals.
Yes, it is important for an organization to speak with one voice. The reason, in this instance, becomes particularly telling:
“Directors should remember that there is always a material prospect that public airing of the disagreement will affect the A.C.L.U. adversely in terms of public support and fund-raising”
As in many cases, the bottom line really is the bottom line.
Of course, the policy is not sitting well with some current and former board members, who feel strongly that free speech is free speech is free speech:
Nat Hentoff, a writer and former A.C.L.U. board member, was incredulous. “You sure that didn’t come out of Dick Cheney’s office?” he asked.
“For the national board to consider promulgating a gag order on its members I can’t think of anything more contrary to the reason the A.C.L.U. exists,” Mr. Hentoff added.
Later in the article, a board member recounts getting privately chastised for a facial expression. Another was voted off for publicly debating a position.
For an organization that lays claim to non-partisan support, this is a clear violation of vision. This can’t be fixed with a “my bad” press release. This is the sort of crisis that only regime change can repair.
This would be a good time to look at your corporate mission statement. Or update it, even.