Have you ever needed to report a wrongdoing? Maybe your neighbor is selling drugs, or maybe your nephew is physically abusing his wife.

Telling the truth about people will land you in more trouble than lying. Why? Because your listeners, if they agree with you, will feel compelled to jump in and do something.

Instead, they might try to find an escape route.

So, what do your neighbors, family members, or business associates do? They may tend to muddy your comments. They will cast doubt on your judgment, behaviors, conclusions. They can often make you the target of blame.

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“I’ve tried telling our Homeowners’ Association that we have a drug dealer in our complex,” says a young nurse we’ll call Tiffany. “This guy is the boyfriend of a homeowner. My words have gone nowhere, and now I’m in trouble. I’m having to watch my back.’”

Time does have a way of changing things, however. This past week, the drug dealer in the complex got arrested. However, Tiffany still feels she is in mortal danger for speaking up. She feels the crime ring in the shadows knows her name.

If you have a difficult truth to reveal, think about your strategies. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way, no matter how noble your intentions. Never make yourself the sacrificial lamb.

Instead, try these techniques:

  • Go outside your immediate locale to get backup. If you need to report a crime, consider calling your state attorney general’s office. Do not talk about the crime with your neighbors.
  • Don’t imagine that people won’t talk. For example, if you tell your aunt her daughter’s boyfriend is beating her up, your aunt will likely use your name. In fact, count on it. Instead, call a domestic violence shelter to get advice on what to do.
  • Don’t discount sending an anonymous letter. For example, if you know someone in your nonprofit is stealing money, find a way to alert the higher-ups by sending a letter you don’t sign. One woman we know anonymously reported $10,000 missing from a food bank’s treasury. Employees were using a debit card to drain the coffers.

“One of the hardest things I ever did was ‘out’ a bigamist,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Roberta. “My neighbor, a 40-something man, was lined up to marry my friend’s sister. But my neighbor is already married! In fact, he has a wife and several children in Texas.”

Roberta had to think fast. She finally obtained a copy of her neighbor’s marriage license via a friend in Texas. Roberta had copies printed.

“I simply mailed the license to my neighbor,” says Roberta. “I felt like a criminal myself, but I had to try to stop this huge mistake. It worked. The would-be groom, who was guilty of trying to deceive an innocent person, left town quickly.”

Telling the truth is like setting off a stick of dynamite. It’s going to fizz and blaze before it explodes something of value. This “something of value” can be someone’s innocent trust of another person. It can be an abusive marriage that is hanging by a thread.

Reporting a sexual predator, thief, drug dealer or bad employee is always scary. But, if you don’t tell the truth, this person will go on to harm others. Find a way to maintain your privacy, but also find a way to get the truth on the table.

Hidden wrongdoing is a cancer. It needs extraction. But still, protect yourself at every step.

Judi Light Hopson is author of the stress management book, “Cooling Stress Tips.” She is also executive director of USA Wellness Café at usawellnesscafe.org. Emma Hopson is a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist. ©2020 Person to Person. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.