This editorial originally appeared in the Dec 2021 issue of FOCUS.
How many times in recent years have we seen brands take public stances on issues completely unrelated to their products? They do this because they are selling an idea, namely that they are “woke” and one of the “good guys”. The proper label for this is the relatively newly coined term, virtue signalling. Not that virtue signalling is unique to brands and organizations — it is an issue for individuals as much as it is for brands. We put the right frame around our Facebook profile picture to signal our support of one cause or another. We use the right hashtag on Twitter. We let our contacts know that we’re the right kind of person.
As you read this, no doubt you recognize the behaviour, and just as likely the thought has generated some eye rolling. I suspect the term virtue signalling leaves a sour taste in our mouths for a reason. It begs the question as to what the motivation is behind our carefully crafted words, social media posts, and public actions. Sometimes we’re just doing what we can to be part of an important cultural moment — we perceive the necessity of our public witness in transforming the zeitgeist. Sometimes we’re interested in letting the people in our sphere of influence know we’re the right kind of person — avoiding being “cancelled” or seeking social approbation. Our motivation is test for where on the spectrum our behaviour lands, somewhere between virtue signalling and intentional witness.
From a Christian perspective, there’s a wide gap between virtue signalling and living with Godly virtue. True virtue isn’t determined by social trends and isn’t about the world’s perception of us. Virtue is tied up in our identity as Christians, interconnected with other Christ-like qualities. As we read in 2 Peter 1:5-8:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I raise this important distinction as this issue of FOCUS takes on challenging issues which are often the subject of virtue signalling, such as gender, race, and disability. Rather than addressing these topics in the way that puts each of us in the best light, we sought to approach them in total humility, seeking knowledge from those who have experienced discrimination in the context of their professional life. While our previous issue took on the subject of discrimination through the lens of the patient, this issue takes on the same subject through the lens of the healthcare professional. We are not signalling our virtue as Christians, but acknowledging that there are ongoing issues relating to discrimation within our professions.
In planning this issue, we sought out experts from a variety of different backgrounds who could help us get a clear view of discrimination as experienced by healthcare professionals. Dr. Cheri Blauwet, a medal winning paralympian and doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, shares with us her experience with ableism as a healthcare professional – a great follow up to the articles by Dr. Heidi Janz and Elizabeth Mohler in the previous issue. Samantha Brown, a registered nurse whose life has been filled with Christ’s overcoming power, shares with us her thoughts on racism and the need to create space in our lives to listen to those experiencing discrimination. CMDA student member Christopher Zwaagstra discusses a recent experience he had of being targeted by other students because of the Christian beliefs he shared within the context of a sermon at his own Church. The final feature article for this series is a crowd sourced piece about the experience of female doctors. The submissions for this article were made anonymously, but they all come from CMDA Canada members.
I hope that in reading each of these articles, we can all re-examine the importance of our behaviour, not only in engaging in discriminatory behaviours in the workplace, but also in how we can support our colleagues who are enduring discrimation. Becoming an ally to a colleague has a danger of dipping into the realm of virtue signalling, but only if our support is purely for show in the moment. What is needed isn’t only words when everyone can see and celebrate our contribution. Rather, what is needed is a system full of diligent people challenging discriminatory practices and mindsets, even when they don’t directly impact our own selves. We are also asked to take the time to listen to those who are experiencing discrimination. Their experience should be heard and validated, not only because we can learn from them but also to allow them a space to grieve. With this sort of intentional engagement, we move from signalling virtue to actively seeking opportunities to be virtuous in Christ.
The balance to these challenging articles comes from Dr. Margaret Cottle’s thoughtful reflection on Psalms 16 and 137, as well as an update on the Manitoba student Chapter, and a very practical and helpful guide from CMDA Sudbury Associate Staff Jolene Felsbourg-Linton on how to cope with the particular stress that is invading even the holiday season. I have also included an article on grief as it is being experienced, and in some ways interrupted, in light of the pandemic.
Our thanks to all of those who contributed to this issue. As always, it is a labour of love for our team and the contributors. The most pressing message of the entire issue is that we as individuals and this world itself need Jesus! Without the transformative grace given by Christ, we cannot move past the brokenness of this world into the Kingdom of God. We are reminded this Christmas season that God chose to take on our weak human flesh, becoming one with the weak, the outcast, and the vulnerable. When we look out into this world, do we choose to be for the strong, privileged and powerful, or to make our place among those who Christ Himself chose to dwell among? There is some practical risk in challenging power structures, but in that challenge we have an outpouring of grace available to us if we but ask. Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us and He is still among us now. Let us be for Him and bring Him to the world.
May you have a very merry and blessed Christmas!