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When is Virtue Signaling Not Virtue Signaling

Dictionary.com defines “virtue signaling” this way: “the sharing of one’s point of view on a social or political issue, often on social media, in order to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not.” In other words, it is doing something so others will think you are virtuous.

Since the announcement of the CDC’s new rules last week (and even after the clarifications that were made), I have been thinking about when and how I will wear a mask after June 15th when masking will become optional for vaccinated people indoors in our state. I suspect that I will do this in the same way that I now wear one around my neck in case I walk near someone masked. A small gesture to reassure a neighbor.

I support vaccination. Vaccination allowed me to make five visits to folks in the hospital this week. Vaccination makes me feel a lot better about my adult children who have many fewer resources than I do. Vaccination gives me hope we will move beyond this difficult shared experience into a time when we can integrate is losses and its lessons. And yet I am also aware of the fact that many who, through no choice of their own, are younger children or babies, those who are medically unable to be vaccinated, medically fragile or immune-compromised remain in danger. I am also aware that others have long-standing concerns about vaccines that proceed the current politicization of such issues.  Others are truly struggling with issues around fear and anxiety about coming back into more participation. I have spoken to a number of people who feel that the federal actions now require them to return to strict sheltering-in-place and they are feeling despairing.

As I have been thinking about all this, I think that continuing to mask and to be sure to never joke about or belittle someone who is masking is more than virtue signaling. It says that I am concerned and that I acknowledge that I can’t know the whole story of the person who is in the grocery store with me who might need me to be masked or the person at worship with me who needs a place where they can sit masked and distanced. If I wear my mask around my neck while walking my dog, perhaps the person who is passing me who was just yelled at for masking from someone driving by (this happens in my neighborhood and has happened to me) will see my actual signal that I am a person who cares and not someone who denies vaccination.

These times do invite us into discernment. Perhaps that discernment, which we each must do, is the true “virtue.”

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