The “toast” is becoming a lost skill, almost a relic from another era, like the battle’s-eve speech to the troops or a sales pitch for gaslight. Toasts are still part of Toastmasters, of course — we’d have to change our name if they weren’t — but modern toasts tend to be of a type. You toast the bride or the friend who’s turning 40 or the guy who invited you to the party. People you know and owe, in other words.
So it was doubly refreshing to hear Hans go wider and deeper with his toast this week. Hans is VanCore’s newest member, sworn in after a unanimous vote, and he wasted no time testing his chops.
Who knows what a whistleblower is? Hans wanted to know. Not the referee or the train-engineer type, but the conscientious informer.
The term was coined by activist and consumer-advocate Ralph Nader in the early 1970s. These are the folks who, from their privileged position as insiders, divulge secrets that the public has the right to know. Think of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange or, more recently, Edward Snowden and private Bradley Manning, fronting classified U.S. Army info.
“People have mixed emotions about whistleblowers,” Hans said. From one angle they are just loose cannons recklessly telling tales out of school to get attention. But from another they are essential cogs in a democracy. And brave, to boot. They put their careers or even lives at risk.
“Think about what whistleblowers have done to improve the world,” Hans said. They ended the Vietnam War earlier than it otherwise would have, saving countless lives. Brought down Nixon. Exposed the corruption in the Salt Lake City Olympic bids and Quebec politicians’ dirty ties to the construction industry. Blew the lid off of Milli Vanilli. (Actually, Hans didn’t mention that one.)
“Chances are your employer has Whistleblower legislation in place, as required by law now,” Hans said, holding eye contact with people around the room. He was on a roll. He seemed almost personally invested in the subject. You got the impression he was preparing to rat out someone at work.
It’s members like Hans that keep a club like VanCore vital. And traditions like the toast that, as a culture, keep us from sliding back to naked savagery.
So please join us in raising your glass. “To Hans.”