首页 > 英语资料 > BBC Radio 4
A couple of years ago the phrase Virtue Signalling started appearing in articles and posts and soon achieved ubiquity. It is roughly defined as someone expressing an opinion that is designed to garner approval from people and make them look morally superior. The virtue signaller doesn’t necessarily have to do anything about the issue. They just have to let everyone know they are thinking about it. Their opinion can even be disguised in the form of a negative, such as “I hate 4 by 4’s” (which really means “Like all good people, I am environmentally conscious”).
It’s a clever term and its appeal is easy to grasp. For as well as being pithy, it has the whiff of truth. It’s a modern way of calling out people who parade their views and actions to look good or, in old money, someone who is holier than thou. A quick glance at social media shows how appealing the phrase is and how often it is bandied about. There are whole websites and channels dedicated to calling out the hypocrites. With perceived offenders mercilessly policed and exposed. There is no shortage of stones being thrown.
The trouble is, the phrase has become toxic. It’s too often used as a lazy put down that can lead to a scatter gun stoning of all kinds of people; it’s become a weapon that stigmatises responses that are sometimes genuine and potentially virtuous. Worse still, the phrase infects anyone who uses it with the very things they are calling out. To accuse someone of virtue signalling is to commit two sins for the price of one: you are essentially making a judgement – about someone’s actions or inactions, whilst at the same time vainly puffing yourself up at their expense. The phrase makes hypocrites of us all.
Virtue signalling is really a new term for a very old practice, one that goes back to the cave and can be witnessed in any primary school playground or democratic parliament. It was categorically addressed by Jesus in his warning to beware of practicing our righteousness in front of people in order to win their approval. Don’t make a great fanfare of your good deeds, he said; instead, if you can, give in secret because God sees your actions and your virtue does not go unnoticed.
Ultimately, a virtuous person shouldn’t care whether their good deeds are seen or not. Years ago, in a period of my life when I was struggling to pay the rent, someone posted a thousand pounds in cash through my letter box. It came anonymously, without fanfare or even a note. I tried to find out who had given me the money, even asking a couple of worthy suspects, but I never found out who it was. The invisible giver has stayed anonymous to this day. No hint of a signal has been offered. But their virtue remains intact.