You may wonder how any knowledge which increases your understanding could be a bad thing? However when it becomes absorbed into a directive system which is used to tell others what they should do, whilst being disregarded by the people or system doing the signposting, this is a problem.

Virtue signalling

Virtue signalling is described by Bartholomew who coined the phrase as “the way in which many people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous. Sometimes it is quite subtle. One of the crucial aspects of virtue signalling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous. It does not involve delivering lunches to elderly neighbours or staying together with a spouse for the sake of the children. It takes no effort or sacrifice at all.”

It can be used as a controlling tool and a device for manipulation based on judgement calls of others without the need to actually participate in said virtue or take personal responsibility. This can either be for gain through herd mentality or to appear to be virtuous by means of voicing an opinion whilst doing nothing.

Social media’s impact

Current ways that this seems to manifesting are for sure through the use of social media by individuals and of course frequently in the media at a larger level. When someone posts that they hate how there are children starving in the world everyday, whilst eating half a meal and throwing the rest in the bin, and donating nothing towards the help of the situation, this is clear virtue signalling.

The phrase itself was coined by the author Bartholomew to describe something he saw going on today particularly relating to charitable giving in the Edwardian and Victorian era’s versus today. He posits that today we give considerably less yet feel more virtuous by posting views which lean a certain way and suggest we care or demonstrate a virtue such as kindness.

One could argue that we have become lazy armchair warriors who believe expressing a view is the equivalent of doing something to be present and help with a situation. This could be anything from handing out soup in a homeless shelter, to making a donation monthly to a charitable cause.

Is it enough to promote an article on an injustice and assume that it is enough to do so because you are raising awareness of it so have in some way helped?

Are we becoming complacent?

I leave the question: are we at risk of becoming completely complacent about any of the real world issues we face and more guilty than ever of ignorance on the basis that we can appear Virtuous purely by posting an opinion?

We stand at a time where awareness and information sharing is at its peak, with little checking of facts before this sharing happens, we have people sharing pictures of random strangers in car parks, or supermarkets being accused of victimising others and who is to say that this happened? The only person who knows is the one who posts and says ‘let’s make this viral’ or ‘name and shame’. The same can be said for how some elements of the media portray situations to a certain vantage to portray people in a certain way. Do you ever post something and then wonder about its aetiology? Maybe it’s time for a different kind of wave, a ‘doing’ of virtue sharing wave, where people do something about the things that upset them rather than post about it, tweet about it or blog it.

Positive psychology addresses issues such as these gritty and contentious ones because it needs to be addressed. So whilst virtues are considered a good thing to have, make sure that you are not also guilty of armchair judgement calls and thinking a posted statement including a virtue signal is ever going to replace action in the real world. It isn’t…

About the author: To find out more about Caralyn Cox MAPP, please click here.


‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’

Share This