Virtue signaling – to others, myself, and God

Virtue signalling is the conspicuous expression of moral values. The term was first used in signalling theory, to describe any behavior that could be used to signal virtue—especially piety among the religious. In recent years, the term has become more commonly used as a pejorative by commentators to criticize what they regard as empty or superficial support of certain political views, and also used within groups to criticize their own members for valuing appearance over action.


I like the term virtue signaling (when judgment is removed). It’s something most of us do in different ways. The most obvious virtue signalling may be when I post something on Facebook to show I care about people, nature, and coming generations. It’s true that I care, but I also want others to know I care. I want to support or create a certain image.

Another one I really want to know is myself. Through my views, actions, and attitudes, I virtue signal towards myself.

And yet another one is God or life. I want life to know I am a good person. When I look for myself, I see that one little piece of spiritual practice is virtue signaling for God. See how sincere I am. Please love me, please make me safe.

So I virtue signal towards others, myself, and God. And I am really saying: See, I am a good person. I am lovable. Please like me, love me, approve of me. And God, please save me.

Again, this is normal, understandable, and innocent. We all want to be loved, liked, and approved of. We all would like to know we are lovable, likable, saved and safe (in a more absolute sense).

And as humans, and perhaps especially in our western culture, we often don’t feel we are. Most of us feel, somewhere in us, that we are unlovable, unlikable, unsafe, and even unsaved.

It’s natural, understandable, and human. It’s sweet, moving, and touching. And a bit heart-wrenching. We just want to be loved. We want to know we are lovable.

In some ways, it’s sufficient to see this and the innocence in it. Nothing needs to change. We just need to notice.

And in another way, it can be good to use this as an opportunity to identify and explore these parts of ourselves that feel unlovable, unlikable, unsafe, and unsaved. How is it to notice, allow, and rest with the sensations connected with this? What are the beliefs and what do I find when I explore them? (The Work.) What are the fears, identities, and compulsions connected with them, and how does the mind create these (Living Inquiries)? How is it to reorient towards these parts of me using heart-centered practices (ho’oponopono, tonglen)? And so on, using whatever approaches we have available to us for exploring and inviting in healing.

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