I learned a new term today and while the phrase “Virtue Signaling” is new to me the concept behind it certainly isn’t. Being heavily involved in charity work I find myself and those I work closely with on a regular emotional roller coaster. Our Facebook pages, email, text and everything in between is flooded with people directing us to those in need. I’ve long labored that these people were just doing their part by shining a light on a problem by bringing it to our attention. While I want to believe many do have honorable intentions there is a subset that simply wants to use it as their brief moment in the sun and share it on social media so they can bask in the platitudes of their friends and strangers telling them what a good job they did. In all actuality they did very little at all and just barely enough to dissuade themselves from feeling bad.
Virtue Signaling is the idea that having and expressing an opinion makes you morally superior. Many people think that by merely expressing an opinion establishes that they really really care. They use wristbands, hashtags, tweets, ribbons and t-shirts to show that they have fashionable opinions. An example of how this manifests in my circles is someone will see a houseless individual (or at least someone they think is houseless) but they don’t want to approach them for whatever reason so instead they make a post in our Facebook group. They talk about how sad homelessness is and how they really wish they could help if just not for… <insert excuse>. The more they talk about how they hate the situation and how if they had a million dollars then they would gladly get involved and do everything they can to fix systemic housing issues. When in all actuality a kind word, a smile, a sandwich or a ride is all it can take to brighten someone’s day. Now I am not saying there is anything wrong posting your experience on social media but if you are doing it for a photo op or for bragging rights your heart is in the wrong place.
Often someone will come along and see these posts then tag one of us and we jump at the chance of helping. Everyone clicks like or love and says, “yay I am so glad you did that I was just about to myself”. There is a great deal of fake positivity and talk but not real action. It’s an easy way to inflate yourself to your peers and make you feel better because no you didn’t walk on by them, you told someone else who was able to help so you are the real hero. In actuality though you made no sacrifice and minimal effort. I think what bothers me the most about this is that it takes away from those people who are genuine and will go the extra mile. The people who will give from the heart and share compassion for their fellow man. The people who are actually virtuous and I proudly know many of them. I in no way want to take away from their efforts but the fakeness and toxic positivity of the armchair heroes needs to stop.
Virtual signaling without actually doing anything is self-righteous and vain. It isn’t what you say or think that matters, it’s what you do.