Virtue Signaling


I have many times told the story of being raised by my Quaker grandmother for the first 5 years of my life in Philadelphia at Swarthmore Meeting. I owe so much to that great lady. I am today a Catholic but there is so much she taught me and I have many habits I don’t even think about that go back to her teaching me Quaker values. I don’t wear jewelry of any kind. I don’t wear a handkerchief in my coat pocket or wear a flower in my lapel. Growing up I was never allowed to keep a sports trophy. I feel guilty today for displaying my academic diplomas. I have never sat for a formal portrait nor has my wife. Nothing wrong or sinful about any of these actions but to the Quaker way of thinking they all call attention to oneself.

My grandfather was a Quaker man. He wasn’t “plain” and he rose to the top of the corporate ladder and then became the Chairman of the Board of the Gene’s Hospital that today is The American Oncologic Institute at Temple University. When he retired from their Board they presented him with a painting (which he never agreed to sit for) to be in the Board room with all the other pictures of fellow Board Chairman. He and my grandmother became very upset and replaced the picture with a wildlife scene. All this was part of their discipline and their humility. Never call attention to oneself. Never put yourself in the middle of the picture. Thirty years later a book was written called “Emotional Intelligence” that explained that people who could place themselves outside of their own social environment often times succeed beyond their limited academic or physical ability because they saw how people—employees, colleagues, and in sports teammates, interacted with each other and how their talents could be best deployed and utilized—think Tom Brady or Casey Stengel, Elon Musk, or Donald Trump.

Today people seem to want to call attention to themselves. They want to publicly display their goodness and nobility. We see this everywhere specifically in the “virtue signaling” media and politicians and now Corporate leaders who want everybody to know that they are “down for the cause” and they are good people. Virtue signaling is defined as “the expression of a moral opinion on a subject meant to make one look like a good person to a specific group or constituency.”

A few quick thoughts seem to be in order: 1. Does a person of true virtue have to signal their virtue? 2. If one is signaling their own virtue are they virtuous? Does a yard sign or a bumper sticker supporting a political cause signal virtue or does it try to call attention to one’s “own goodness.” What about wearing a face mask outside two weeks after you have been vaccinated for Covid-19 and tested positive for IgG and IgM antibodies? What about Fortune 500 corporate leaders who publish their own names and their company’s names in a 2 page add in the Wall Street Journal under the imprimatur of THE BLACK ECONOMIC ALLIANCE stating: “We Stand for Democracy” In Garden City there were two yards next door to each other. One had a Black Lives matter sign and the other had a TRUMP sign. Which family cared more about Black lives? Hint—The Trump sign family was a mixed racial family. Which family was the most virtuous?

In Luke we are told the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee. They both went up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee began his prayer by telling God how righteous he was. The tax collector began his prayer with “have mercy on me Lord”. In Mathew Jesus reprimands the hypocrites who give their alms before crowds and instructs them not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Teachers, parents coaches, those who volunteer every day at the Rescue Mission or St. Vincent DePaul, or the food bank don’t place signs in their yards proclaiming their virtue. They don’t agitate for violence in their own neighborhoods. If the virtue signaling hypocrites wanted to address the problems in marginalized communities they would start by identifying the real problem—families are no longer the center of life in marginalized neighborhoods. Black Lives Matters has actually stated that they want to do away with the “patriarchal traditional family” Really? In 1960 80% of Black children grew up in a family with a mother and father. Today that number is 40%.

Barak Obama stated in a speech early in his 1st term that a child growing up in a home without a father has a five times greater chance of living their entire life in poverty, than a child growing up in a two- parent home. That same child in a single parent family has a 10 times greater chance of dropping out of school before they graduate and a 20 times greater chance of being incarcerated sometime during their life. In New York City in 2018 60% of Black pregnancies resulted in abortion. Little baby boys and girls murdered—80 million total in our country since Roe vs Wade. Last year according to Heather Mc Donald there were 7000 Black male homicides 1/3 of 1% involved the police and ½ of those were white policeman. There is racism in our society but it is not systemic or institutionalized. The privilege we have is shared by all people—it is American Privilege.

The rioting in the streets has nothing to do with fixing problems in oppressed communities, but instead is used to deflect our attentions from the real problems we are all facing. Until we again make our families the center of our lives—this by the way has nothing to do with rich or poor families but all families, and again teach our children skills and virtues so they can deal with life without having to be dependent on government or anyone but themselves in their own individual pursuit of happiness, we will not begin to come out of the downward spiral toward servitude and dependency. All this takes real work and cooperation. Tearing down statues and rioting is easy. Calling someone a racist or an oppressor is easy. Being a father and a mother and supporting a family and giving them a home and a secure place to study and learn—now that takes courage and that is what is needed today.

The issue of virtue signaling has become closely associated with the “social justice movement”. I have discussed this in a previous article, but the point is that announcing to the world that one cares or that one has empathy or sympathy for another human being is not enough. Feeling another’s pain is not enough. Acting on those feelings is what is required and that is called being compassionate. Like Javert in Les Mis, justice without love is hollow. Justice with love is Mercy. Today we need to become a merciful and gracious people. If you see any form of discrimination—an elderly person being abused, a lady with three kids not getting help at the grocery store, a white person being criticized for their “privilege” or a person of color—any color, not getting a chance because they are different—if you don’t step up in real time for injustice but you have a yard sign—you are a “virtue signaler” and a coward

People who call attention to themselves and then refuse to act personally are the problem that we have today. We have a bunch of people in the media, politics, academia, the corporate world, who are happy to announce their virtue to the world—call attention to themselves, but who aren’t willing to get their hands dirty. They are in fact the problem because they place themselves at the center of the picture, instead of looking from the outside in.

“Have Mercy on Thy People, Lord”

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