Virtue signalling and disappointment

I've heard 'virtue signalling' a few times in the past few years - mostly on twitter actually - and while I understood the concept and critics pointed out behind it I also felt pretty distant. Like a 'oh here's something between some activists and companies'. And then recently I realised (a) that behavior is present all around me way more than anticipated/ thought at first (b) it affects me and my mood pretty often. Let's unpack this.

First: what is 'virtue signalling' exactly? Wikipedia is pretty straightforward and useful on the matter:

[...] virtue signalling is "an attempt to show other people that you are a good person, for example by expressing opinions that will be acceptable to them, especially on social media... indicating that one has virtue merely by expressing disgust or favour for certain political ideas or cultural happenings". The expression is often used to imply by the user that the virtue being signalled is exaggerated or insincere.

One example often cited as virtue signalling is "greenwashing", when a company deceptively claims or suggests that its products or policies are more environmentally friendly than they actually are

Well, that 'one example often cited' strikes a chord. I even wrote extensively on 'sustainable commerce'.

So, to everyone working, writing, preaching on sustainability and commerce, please, focus on telling the truth - even though it's hurting, it is pretty intuitive - we all have to buy dramatically less. Period.

Here's another example pretty much around the same topic but from the 'other side' of the table.

Consumers in the US remain invested in eco-conscious practices, according to a survey from Blue Yonder, a digital supply chain company. The results show that an impressive 69% of respondents said they were willing to pay more for sustainable products, but just 4% expressed willingness to pay 20% more. Furthermore, 48% of respondents shared an increased interest in sustainability over the past year.

The survey also found that consumers are willing to make personal sacrifices for more eco-friendly shopping, including paying more and delaying priority shipping. [1]

Okay. This above is typically what people say. Like pointing out how 'fast fashion is bad' and so on. Now let's look at how they act shall we.

Meanhwile, 96% of Gen Zers shop online 1x a month and 32% do it once a DAY. Then look at the graph above again. Now read the conclusion of the survey above again. Hmm 🤔 disconnection? When I think about it, if someone asks me straight: 'hey, would you say you'd be ready to pay more for more eco-friendly products?' of course I'll say 'yes'. I'll shout it out even. But then, once alone at home in front of my screen craving for... anything, where do I think I'll end up shopping?

Now is a good time to re-introduce a classic.

Bottom line, we aren't what we say we are, we are what we do. Which reminds me Ben Horowitz book: What you do is who you are.

Ben differentiates “Values” from “Virtues”: values are what you believe, virtues are what you do. And he shows through extreme examples (e.g. set of virtues defined in samurai’s bushido) that culture rooted in virtues holds stronger and longer.

If interested, here's a nice conversation about the book.

The above examples talk about companies and culture but we often face 'virtue signalling' in many other contexts. After all, the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb cites Matthew 6:1-4 as an example of 'virtue signalling' being proclaimed as a vice also in antiquity: "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven".

A few examples I personally face quite often nowadays:

  • (what is said) "oh I'd love to see the kids and spend some time with them"; (what is done) people aren't there, they haven't spent one moment with them yet
  • (what is said) "we should go skate more"; (what is done) no news of any skate session whatsoever
  • (what is said) "now that you're back in the same country we'll see each other more"; (what is done) we haven't seen each other once

I'm fine. I understand where people are coming from. Of course I'm also guilty of such behavior. But I really realised lately how frustrating it can become. More importantly, I told myself a few times that I'd prefer not to hear any of these statements so I wouldn't grow disappointed and resentful when reality hits and doesn't match.

If you always prioritize your own activities, parties, weekends etc over spending time with some young kids, obviously, it's your choice, your life and I'm totally fine with that but why on Earth are you telling me every time we see each other 'I'd love to spend some time with the kids'. It might be true but a more accurate and complete statement would be: 'while I'd like to spend some time with the kids, I'd rather prefer to go out drink with my friends'. In that case, here's my advice: don't say anything. It's fine. No need to practice any kind of 'virtue signalling' here. You're welcome.


Objet du jour

Summer is coming to an end here. My most worn - and latest bought - pair of shorts is this pale blue one by Isto, a brand based in Portugal. Since I mentioned more 'eco-friendly product' in the text above, it made me think of them haha. Talking about 'virtue signalling' here what they claim on their 'about' page online: independent thinking, superb quality, transparent pricing, organic materials. Full story engraved for eternity with Objet.



[1] source: Fashion Network