I’ve been troubled by some lawn signs. You’re probably familiar with them. The words can vary but the message generally reads like this: “In this home, we believe… Science is real, Black lives matter, No human is illegal, Women’s rights are human rights, Love is love, Kindness First.”

Initially, I thought the signs were great. Recently, I’ve decided they’re a load of crap.

I’m sorry to put it so bluntly. If I’ve offended your sentimentality, let me try again. At best, these signs are disingenuous. At worst, they are public representations of condescension and arrogance.

Though the practice isn’t new, expressing a moral or political opinion in this fashion is known today as “virtue signaling.” By definition, virtue signaling establishes a right and wrong and signals one’s own moral or political superiority. But this demonstration is often just a show for the public and isn’t backed by actions that lead to meaningful change. In fact, sometimes our words can contradict each other, and our actions can conflict with our words.

For example, other common forms of virtue signaling are found on bumper stickers or license plates. I’ve always been stumped by a car that has cigarette smoke billowing out of it while observing a pink ribbon bumper sticker or plate. Yesterday, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “God, Family, Country” and next to it another sticker that said, “F*#k Mills!”

I’ll admit to being a flawed Christian, but I’m certain God would find a way to love everyone despite political differences.


Now let’s take a closer look at a few points on the lawn sign in question. It’s clear the signaler identifies as being left and wishes to signal a message to people on the right. I personally identify with the left.

“Science is real.” I agree. I suspect the message came in response to people questioning climate change. Do our actions always reflect what we know from science? Not always. For example, we’ve seen that eating less meat and dairy could have the single largest impact on our environment, why aren’t most of us doing it? If science is real, and scientists have told us the best way to protect the elderly, children and the immunocompromised against COVID is to wear masks, why do we refuse to wear masks during high community transmission? Not to mention, the serious risks we now know long-COVID poses to everyone. Science hasn’t changed.

Or “Women’s rights are human’s rights.” I have one word for this: Poppycock! It’s a lovely sentiment, and I wish it were true, but while the owner of the sign might believe this, most people don’t. If so many people truly believed this, the Equal Rights Amendment would be in our constitution, Roe v. Wade would have been codified, and paid maternity leave would be given to every woman, as would free childcare and free healthcare.

Finally, “Kindness First.” The signaler identifies as being morally and politically righteous and wishes to establish others as ignorant, if not morally bankrupt. A sign that demeans and belittles anyone who has a differing opinion cannot be an expression of kindness.

So what’s the point of these signs or virtue signaling? Are they just political signs? If so, fine. If they’re to demonstrate a moral high ground, what’s the saying about people in glass houses? However, if they are intended to change hearts, why would anyone ever engage in a thoughtful conversation with the owner?

Ultimately, this is in direct conflict with the intended goal of social change. Want to do something about health inequity in Black communities, or help end racial disparities in  incarceration? That will never happen if we greet others with insults. If we want change, we can’t walk away from each other. We must move forward — together. We must be willing to have conversations with people who are opposed to our point of view. This means seeing the parts of each other we don’t want to see and listening to things we don’t want to hear.


Let’s not allow ourselves to view our neighbors as adversaries. It may help serve someone’s political agenda to create enemies through our disagreements, but it doesn’t serve our community or our children. We may identify as “right” or “left” but shouldn’t make assumptions about each other based on political parties and reduce someone to categories. People are so much more complex. How we treat each other has more to do with our hearts than how we vote. We should be able to disagree with each other civilly, without disrespect and condescension through lawn signs, bumper stickers, and hashtags on social media or elsewhere. Virtue signaling doesn’t make one virtuous.

I’m aware of the irony of my writing about moral superiority. But you won’t find any signs on my lawn.

And hey, if my superiority has offended you, let’s talk about it!

Hilary Koch lives in Waterville. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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