But, as another correspondent reminded me, losing your job is no joke in a down economy. You could lose your house. Your kids could go hungry.
That's true (although, I'd argue that there's no such thing as a secure job), but I think that ingrained fear makes many people exaggerate in their own minds the risks of challenging authority. They don't necessarily even spell out the possible consequences of speaking truth. They're formlessly timid, or so conditioned to obedience that it doesn't occur to them to challenge the constraints they perceive—like how I'm conditioned to looking over my shoulder the wrong way.
So here's a suggestion. If you find yourself in a situation where it's your professional responsibility to speak out, and you're hesitating or not speaking clearly enough to be heard, try doing a personal risk assessment. Ask yourself, as coolly and reasonably as you can:
"What bad thing(s) could actually happen to me if I spoke out?" (consequences)
"How serious might any of those bad things be to me and to my dependents?" (impact)
"How likely is it that the worst things will really happen?" (probability)
You may realize that the personal risks aren't as great as you expected. Or, you might decide they are.
Regardless of your answers, now turn the questions around, starting with:
"What bad thing(s) could actually happen to me if I don't speak out?"
Damage to your professional reputation and loss of credibility are plausible consequences.
I can't advise you whether or not to risk disastrous consequences for yourself and your family. Only you can decide that. But, there is another question worth asking:
"What is the cost of avoiding (mitigating) any risks of speaking out?"
Because the answer to that question might be:
"I can only avoid the risks by not fulfilling my professional obligation."
If it is highly probable that the consequences of speaking out would be greater than you can afford—and the cost of mitigation would be not doing your job—then I suggest you need to find another job, or an organization where you can do your job without legitimate fear.
Maybe that sounds hard. But we know this too from childhood. If the emperor is naked and we're paid to critique his apparel, then we don't get to say he's wearing a lovely blue robe. We don't get to keep quiet.
But I think I won't fight the impulse to look both ways when I cross the street—whichever country I'm in. It might save my life some day.