Virtue signaling, is the idea that people make choices to demonstrate a moral superiority. Often, individuals make purchases or implement practices that may result in a less than satisfactory experience simply for the benefit of demonstrating that they were adhering to a higher, moral standard. Virtue signaling has long been associated with sustainability practices such as recycling, driving electric or hybrid cars and taking steps to reduce the carbon footprint. These are all noble gestures.
Recent literature suggests that there is a steady shift from virtue signaling to shaming. In other words, practicing sustainability is no longer a nice thing to do, it is a requirement. Failure to adhere to well established sustainability practices will result in direct and sometimes public criticism. While this new virtue signaling has historically been focused on the green movement, I foresee that this trend will expand into more aspects of people’s lives. Can’t articulate your purpose? Shame on you. Working for a corporation that hasn’t demonstrated political correctness? Shame on you for not seeking employment elsewhere.
Why do I believe that shaming will permeate many different aspects of our lives? Over the years, we have seen individual’s desires to lead more integrated lives. Employees don’t want to leave their values at home when they go to work. They want to infuse their passion into work and play. Parents want their kids to attend schools and activities that will uphold values and practices like their own. As more people intentionally lead increasingly integrated lives, individuals will call out others that are not doing the same. We’ve seen this increasing pressure on corporations, CEOs, politicians and religious institutions, but this increased pressure is directed toward the average citizen and her routine activities.
I have never been a fan of private, let alone public shaming and am concerned by this emerging trend as it feels like a new form of bullying. Bene Brown, author of the best seller, Daring Greatly has both talked and written on the concept of shame. She states, “I believe that if we want meaningful, lasting change we need to get clear on the differences between shame and guilt and call for an end to shame as tool for change. That also means moving away from labeling.”
Will shaming continue to increase in practice and will it extend beyond sustainability? This is one instance where I truly hope I am wrong and that we don’t move any closer than we already are to a shaming society.