Signals mean something, or at least they should. “Virtue signaling” — the way it’s thought of today in popular culture as a pejorative — means almost nothing, except that deception or self-deception is at play. So, we should call it something else…
What’s your sign?
Signaling is a way for humans — the social animals that we are — to communicate with each other. Signaling behaviors convey information about our intentions, emotions, or social status. We also signal our affiliations with social groups or movements. We send these signals unconsciously, and sometimes consciously. As children, we pretend to be adults by using their signals. But as we mature into adulthood, the pretending stops and we really act like adults.
While the concept of “virtue signaling” is not new, the rise of social media and the internet has amplified its effects and made it more visible. “Virtue signaling” is a term that has gained popularity in recent years, particularly in online discussions and debates. It refers to the act of publicly expressing one’s moral or ethical values, usually in a way that seeks to garner approval or admiration from others. Virtue signaling is a specific type of signal that conveys information about our moral or ethical values. Ideally, these signals express actual values and beliefs. Expressing values & beliefs can serve to reinforce one’s own identity and sense of purpose. Virtue signaling can also be a way of seeking validation or recognition from others, particularly in the age of social media where likes, shares, and comments can be powerful indicators of social status and influence.
But, these days, virtue signaling is criticized as being insincere or hypocritical and is further seen as a way of appearing virtuous without actually doing anything to address the underlying issues. For example, someone might post a message on social media about the importance of environmental conservation, but then continue to engage in environmentally harmful behaviors in their daily lives. This can be seen as a form of “performative activism” or “slacktivism” that is more about signaling one’s values than actually making a meaningful contribution to a cause. Talking the talk is easy, and social media makes it even easier. As we all know, walking the talk is harder and takes true virtue, morals, and ethics.
Worse than plain everyday hypocrisy, virtue signaling can be used as a tool of social control. When certain values or beliefs become widely accepted as virtuous, those who do not adhere to them may be seen as immoral or even dangerous.
What is a “virtue signal” without “virtuous action”? Leave your thoughts in the comment section. What should we call a false signal of virtue?
Despite these criticisms, there are also many positive aspects to virtue signaling. When done sincerely and in conjunction with meaningful action, virtue signaling can be a powerful force for positive change. By publicly expressing our values and beliefs, we can inspire others to join us in working towards a better world. We can use our social influence to amplify actions and advocacy for widespread cultural and social changes.
Ultimately, the key to effective virtue signaling is to ensure that it is grounded in genuine values and backed up by meaningful action — to make it real in the world, to be the change we want to see. If we truly believe in a cause, we should be willing to work towards it concretely, such that there are measurable results. And then we need to measure those results, whether volunteering, donating, or engaging in advocacy work.
One of the ways that false signals make their way into our lives is through incomplete development. As children, we pretend to have values & virtues of our care givers. If we haven’t transcended & included all of the previous stages of development in a healthy way, we continue to pretend. Regression to earlier stages through pretense is one way out of the staggering complexity of the modern world. If it gets really bad, the narcissistic 2-year-old in an adult body takes over the show, pretending to be virtuous with actions that — if you measured the tangible results — couldn’t be called ethical, moral, or virtuous.
Fortunately, we have early signs that students of PraxisAletheia “grow up.” The following graph shows very preliminary results that, through real virtuous action, our students have increased, on average, by ~8 points (+/- 3) of the Total Weighted Scores on their Maturity Assessment Profile (MAP). These MAP results were provided by Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter, the world-renowned developmental psychologist, and her team.
We get applications for the Mystery School that are more performance than a real signal leading to further action.
- “I feel the need to share this message with everyone that is around me and serve others”
- “[Y]our methods and the awakening it can bring to people are just what the world needs right now”
- “It is time to awaken others as well as myself.”
- etc. etc. etc.
We’ve received over 1300 applications. They’ve watched the webinar, reviewed the whole website, and affirmed they are willing and able to enroll. So many signals with disproportionate action.
The world is in a “crisis of meaning.” We are in a “post-truth era.” Signaling your virtue without virtuous action adds to the crisis.
Watching the webinar for PraxisAletheia is a real action that can change your life. And it can change even more by walking the path of the Hero’s Journey.