The other day, I published my first blog post in over a year. I was stunned by the wonderful feedback I received. In fact, I met someone this week who said to me, “the really magnetic thing about you is that you’re so charismatic but also so genuine.” Of course I was flattered, and to a large extent, I openly attribute my successes in my life and relationships to the fact that I don’t work too hard to force anything. Blame it on my idyllic childhood and the blind sense of confidence it’s afforded me, but in truth, there wasn’t a whole lot of adversity I had to overcome as a kid. This is apparent to me now more than ever as Americans collectively face truths about the disparity between our walks in life, many of which start out purely circumstantial upon birth and are beyond our individual control.
During quarantine, I ordered myself a journal called Burn After Writing by Sharon Jones. The idea is that you open up a page at random and fill out whatever question/writing prompt you happen upon that day. The deal is that you make a vow to yourself that you will answer honestly, no matter what.
Some of the questions are no-brainers for me.
MY LEGACY IS…
Some of them I just don’t have the courage to face in that moment and I have to come back to them a different day.
THREE THINGS MY ALTER EGO WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY:
When I figure it out, maybe I’ll let you know. Probably one of them is to wash my face before bedtime.
My husband was the first person to ever teach me the phrase “virtue signaling,” which you can look up yourself, but it basically means making your social/political views known online for the sake of getting “Likes” from people who agree with you and possibly baiting or passive aggressively shaming those who don’t share your viewpoint.
I have tolerant, kind, generous family members that love each other very much; they share recipes, stay up laughing and playing cards, loan each other money, and make a point to show up for important moments in life, big or small. But if you judged them solely based off what they share on Facebook, you’d think they were philosophical, moral, and idealogical enemies. This, to me, is the condensed picture of virtue signaling. It’s not that they aren’t well-meaning. It’s not that they wish harm to those who disagree. For some reason they feel the compulsion to define and declare themselves publicly over and over and over again, even though pretty much everyone on Facebook is just preaching to their own choirs.
When it comes to me, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to be genuine without sounding like I’m virtue signaling on whatever is the topic du jour. And I’m getting so paranoid about saying something versus not saying something I’ve considered just randomly ‘shouting’ out all-caps status updates of abhorrent things I’m against, just to be “on the record.”
I AM ANTI-INCEST!
I DO NOT APPROVE OF PEDOPHILIA!
I BELIEVE THAT A PBJ SHOULD BE MADE BY SPREADING PEANUT BUTTER ON ONE SLICE OF BREAD, USING THE SLICE OF BREAD APPOINTED FOR JELLY TO WIPE THE EXCESS PEANUT BUTTER OFF THE KNIFE, THEN DIPPING THAT KNIFE IN THE JELLY TO COVER THE SECOND SLICE. AND THEN, AND ONLY THEN, EVER THE TWO SLICES SHALL MEET.
But I think my biggest problem with virtue signaling is the same problem I have with people constantly announcing that they are “praying for you” over the slightest inconveniences. I’m not sure everyone is taking the time to make sure they are actually being genuine. Before you can be genuine, you have to know yourself. I think a lot of us get swept up in sharing what we think people will like, versus what we truly mean. My mom used to have a magnet on the refrigerator that said, “No, thyself.” I think it had a picture of a slice of chocolate cake or something like that. Clearly the manufacturer of the magnet thought, hey, let’s take an Ancient Greek philosophical saying out of context and turn it into a pun we can print on a tchotchke we can sell to women to remind them and their friends that they shouldn’t eat. Their young daughters can see it and internalize it without having the slightest bit of context. Now lest you think I am blaming my mother or that magnet for my 15+ year eating disorder, I am not. The real crime is that the “joke” isn’t worth the payoff, and neither is a lot of the virtue-signaling clickbait online. To be clear about the magnet, I can tolerate the monetizing of widely accepted unattainable beauty standards portrayed in advertising, but what I cannot and will not stand for is lazy punnery (TM).
Side note: What I DO blame my parents for can be summed up in two words: Kindergarten Circus. Marlis and Glenn, I know you say that you had already “taken off work so you could move us from our tiny rental house to our new house and couldn’t get back the deposit so you had to spend the day moving our furniture by yourselves to make a new home for our family blah blah blah,” but honestly, I SHINED on that gym mat in the middle of the playground that day and I hope it haunts you for all your days that you never got to see my vague, haphazard ballerina moves and and faux, but extremely convincing tightrope walking. I digress…
Easing into summation here, there is a line from one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, when Billy Bob Thornton (the antagonist) casually says to Hugh Grant in their diplomatic negotiations, “I’ll give you anything you ask for, as long as it’s not something I don’t want to give.” The second I heard that line, I recognized myself immediately, and not in a good way. In a Truman Show-esque moment, I became acutely aware of the bubble around me; all the times I’ve behaved badly and gotten away with it where others might have been harmed, or worse, killed for doing the same or less.
There is a plethora of reading you can do on the psychology of how you can hone your strengths to build virtue. We are all works in progress. I often remember the old adage, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, but I believe strongly in communication, and sometimes what we genuinely have to say isn’t “nice.” So what if we began conversations about what and why we have our beliefs within our own minds and then posted them if they still felt authentic within our hearts. Let’s vet our posts and reposts to be in favor of working toward peace, instead of controversy or the selfishness of virtue signaling. Because isn’t it in all of our best interest to create peace where we can? Sometimes the most powerful peaceful act you have at your fingertips is something as mundane-sounding as not sharing a hate bait article online.
To hopefully put a non-offensive bow on my musings here today, I encourage those of you who have looked within, thought, prayed, and meditated on what you genuinely care to spend your time on earth representing, by all means, share it proudly. Let your genuine voice be heard. But please don’t feel pressured to post polarizing things from unreliable sources just to virtue signal your commitment to your side of whatever cause is trending that day whether it be race relations, the wage gap, immunization, or the proper way to make a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, MARISA!
So may peace be with you. And also with y-I mean, and with your spirit. (That’s a little inside for the Catholics out there.)
In the spirit of a call for peaceful change, I’ll leave you with a quote by James Todd Smith:
“Don’t you call this a regular jam. I’m gonna rock this land. I’m gonna take this itty-bitty world by storm, and I’m just getting warm.”
Thanks for checking in,