They Say Millennials Lack Empathy, But is it True?

It’s fashionable in some groups and thought circles to refer to Millennials as the “me generation.” The members of this generation are so preoccupied with themselves that they completely lack empathy for anyone else. There are plenty of articles and opinion pieces out there that try to argue that Millennials are increasingly narcissistic and self-centered and trying to explain why that may be the case.

What’s interesting is that the research cited is actually fairly consistent in its conclusions. A pretty famous article in Time cites several sources which show that narcissistic and individualistic traits in Millennials are higher than in previous generations. When studied, Millennials often demonstrate less concern or sympathy for the misfortunes of others.

There’s no debating the research. That is, there’s no debating it if you take it at face value. Particularly, there’s no debating it if you’re someone who doesn’t understand empathy because you lack empathy yourself.

You Need to be Empathetic to Measure Empathy

The research out there is crock because it uses definitions and measures that were created from perspectives which distinctly lack empathy. This is most evident when we examine the use of “sympathy and concern for the misfortunes of others” as a metric for evaluating empathy.

Konrath et. al. measure significantly lower rates of empathic concern and perspective taking in the Millennial generation. The problem is that their definitions of both are more akin to pity and sympathy rather than actual empathy. There is a distinct difference here that needs to be stated.

Pity and sympathy are specifically antithetical to empathy. They are predicated upon a recognition that the object of your feelings is in a different circumstance from yourself. Importantly, they also rely on viewing the object of your sympathy as just that, an object. The person whose misfortune you’re so concerned about is distant from and external to you. So when we find that Millennials disagree more with the statement, “ “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me,” it is erroneous to claim that this is an accurate measure of their empathy. In fact, a negative response to that statement could be an indication of increased empathy.

Similarly, when Millennials respond negatively to the statement, “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective,” they’re not actually saying they try less to empathize with their friends.

This is true because real empathy does not require conscious cognitive effort.

Let that sink in for a second.

When you really share an emotional state with someone, when you truly understand that emotional state, you do not need to make a conscious cognitive effort to replicate it. You are an insider, not an outsider trying to understand what “the other” is feeling. You are one in the same.

The definitions of empathy used in the research, and their corresponding measures, are distinctly un-empathetic.

What Does This Say About Previous Generations?

One thing to note is that research and commentary on the empathy of Millennials is almost exclusively conducted by non-Millennials. The definitions and measures they use are created by them; they are not novel or reworked. They are borrowed and carried forward from decades old psychological research and literature.

In this way, a meta examination of the research reveals a great deal about the lack of empathy in the generations of the people conducting the research. When your only conceptualizations of empathy rely on pity and sympathy, it’s clear that you yourself don’t really understand what it means to be empathetic. When your only conceivable measure of empathy is showing concern for someone else or trying to put yourself in their shoes, then you don’t actually grasp what it means to be in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is an internal recognition that you both are already wearing the same shoes; you don’t have to try and see how the other shoes fit.

Similarly, studies show that Millennials value extrinsic rewards of work more than intrinsic rewards.

Here, things like income and status are classified as extrinsic rewards. The problem is that, in their unlimited individualism, Millennials increasingly view income and status as intrinsic rewards. They expect to be paid fair compensation and be treated with dignity and respect in their workplace. Unpaid internships are rejected as exploitative now, where previously they were more commonplace. The measures need to be changed and the definitions reworked. They are byproducts of people who have an entirely different, and remarkably un-empathetic, world view.

It’s also telling that the results of the questions, “I like the kind of work you can forget about after the work day is over,” and, “ If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you’d like for the rest of your life, would you want to work?” were excluded entirely from the final conclusions of the study.

Millennials view work as a means to an end, not as a constant that they need to dump their entire lives into. They work because we’ve created a societal structure which necessitates it, not because the work serves any great purpose. You necessarily have to lack empathy with Millennials to structure your research in such a way.

How Can Narcissists Be Empathetic?

There is no doubt that Millennials are generally more concerned with themselves and feel significantly higher amounts of entitlement than previous generations. They want debts forgiven, free healthcare, adequate living wages, and a whole host of other things they feel they deserve.

So how can people like this possibly be empathetic? The answer is in the statement itself.

Millennials share their lived experiences. They intrinsically understand their shared circumstances and recognize their shared consciousness.

If Millennials are increasingly individualistic, they empathize with each other’s individuality. They share that mindset and that experience. Millennials are less communal, but they share in that perspective. They needn’t try to understand how other people feel because they are more emotionally connected with other people through their lived experiences.

How do we know this? Millennial communication relies on a level of empathy that is unprecedented in society.

Just search Instagram for #mood, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Millennials are a generation that can post a picture of them drinking on the porch with nothing but the word “Mood” in the caption, and convey a complex emotional understanding that will be understood by every other Millennial who sees the picture.

Previous generations were largely unable to communicate emotions at such a fundamental level. Instead, they relied on one-dimensional words like relaxed, relieved, or having fun to communicate what they were feeling. Instead, all they were doing was communicating whatever the other person thought the word meant. Millennials are managing to transcend the functionality of language and use it symbolically to communicate the emotions themselves.

Want a more dramatic example? Here’s a meme for you:

Here is an image that uses the logo of a salt container to convey a complete emotional state without ever telling you what that emotional state is. And yet, it is understood completely. I don’t even need to go into how the fact that memes even exist and are used as communication already illustrates my point.

But What About the Research?

When we look at research that tries to understand Millennials through what they do rather than responses to poorly defined measures created by Boomers, we actually see a slightly different story.

In the workplace, Millennials work well in teams and prefer frequent and open communication, particularly with their superiors.

Millennials utilize communication technology far more frequently than previous generations. One of the main reasons they cite for this behavior is that they seek social connectedness, which the researchers define as “receiving appropriate empathy and understanding from peers or society.”

Millennials are even more productive at work when they have work friends and operate in a low stress environment.

All of these behavioral realities suggest that Millennials are actually far more empathetic. They operate on a subconscious platform of empathy which relies on a common emotional foundation with the people they regularly interact with.

It’s important that we rid ourselves of misguided notions of what empathy means. We can’t measure it using un-empathetic methodologies that rely on conscious effort based evaluations.

Instead, let’s take a lesson from Millennials and become more introspective. When you begin to criticize somebody for not being empathetic, consider that maybe you are the one who cannot empathize with their emotional state.

One Last Note

One study interestingly suggested that Boomers are workaholics driven by ambition, and will be critical of people who don’t feel the same way.

I wonder why so much research conducted by Boomers seems to conclude that Millennials are selfish, entitled, and un-empathetic?

Yikes.

Resolved: The European Union should join the Belt and Road Initiative.

Resolved: The European Union should join the Belt and Road Initiative.

This is sort of an interesting topic. It’s also one I think is important for students to learn about because the Belt and Road Initiative is something that will significantly impact global development in the not so distant future. So let’s talk about it.

Definitions

Belt and Road Initiative – This is really the only important term in the resolution that merits definition. This initiative is a large infrastructure project which hopes to link basically all parts of the world. It is an effort to create land and sea routes from China, Southeast Asia, through the Middle East and Europe, all the way into the United States, effectively linking the entire globe. China has proposed it as a project to unite and connect the world, increasing global exchange and trust. Others see it as a ploy for China to implement a stranglehold on the global markets by creating a trade network dependent upon China for it’s operation. An important note for this resolution is that some countries like Italy and Greece have already signed on and agreed to cooperate with the initiative. Another important thing to note is that “signing on” to the initiative is really a meaningless gesture. Each infrastructure project within the initiative still requires its own negotiations and approvals. And like the Paris climate agreement, for example, countries are still free to reject anything they don’t see as fit, or even just not abide by the agreement, after signing on to it.

The framework of your case will depend on addressing the question of how we determine with the European Union should do. What should be the primary factors it considers when making a decision? Once you determine that, you can apply that to the question of the resolution to determine if the EU should join the Belt and Road Initiative.

Case Positions

Pro

  1. Global Exchange – Whether or not China intends to use the initiative as a way to increase its global influence, which it undoubtedly does, this proposal is an excellent way to increase global unity and exchange. These were central reasons for the founding of the EU to begin with, and the benefits are clear. The initiative will help the EU continue its mission, and because China is providing a significant amount of the financial backing, it will be at a relatively low cost. Also, some members of the EU have already signed on, so everyone might as well get on board.
  2. Economic Benefit – Robust infrastructure that fills in global gaps that exist today will help improve economic efficiency across the globe. The primary motivating factor behind the EU was economics. Countries joined to increase their economic strength and resources, and the exchange that came with it was just an added bonus. This is an opportunity for the EU to expand that economic mission to the rest of the world.

Con

  1. Moral Precedent – The EU exists to promote and encourage certain political and moral ideologies like distributive justice, democratic representation, etc… All EU countries have similar political systems, and certain countries like Turkey have been excluded because they are not ideologically similar. China has a history of continuing economic development regardless of political or moral considerations of right and wrong, as is demonstrated by its propensity of working with authoritarian regimes that Western democracies don’t work with. Signing on to China’s initiative would signal that the EU is more concerned about economic gain than about things like promoting human rights. It would allow China to spread its power and authoritarian regimes to have access to unprecedented resources.
  2. Security Risk – The first goal of any governmental body, like the EU, is to provide for the security of its people. China’s initiative poses a tremendous security risk. Increasing infrastructure links to rogue states and parts of the world that are home to radical groups and ideologies affords new opportunity for these dangerous ideologies to spread. It gives new avenues for terrorist to utilize. Not only that, China has a history of hacking and other technological warfare. The initiative would likely exacerbate those types of incidents, posing a significant security risk.

Alright, that’s it for now. I hope that helps get you started. Good luck! And don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

Resolved: In the United States, colleges and universities ought not consider standardized tests in undergraduate admissions decisions.

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Resolved: In the United States, colleges and universities ought not consider standardized tests in undergraduate admissions decisions.

FIrst topic of the year! And wow is it trash. Not only is the topic phrasing awful, but I also don’t understand why it’s an LD topic at all. This topic doesn’t pose interesting clash, and it’s phrased in such a way as to have an agent of action that is incredibly difficult to evaluate as a moral agent. Not only that, we’re skirting around the actual issue of whether or not we should have standardized tests at all. It’s awful, but I suppose it’s what we have to work with. So let’s get to it.

Definitions

Standardized Tests – We all know what standardized tests are. They’re tests given to all students to measure their educational progress. The tests are all the same, with the same questions, given to each member of a particular subset of students. There’s no reason to get caught up in any sort of nuance here.

Every other term in the resolution doesn’t really merit definition. We all know what colleges and universities are. Don’t get caught up in the distinction between public and private institutions; it ultimately doesn’t matter to the moral question, in fact now a days there’s a lot of options, there are even online colleges for military available.

Your key focus here should be determining how we evaluate what colleges and universities should do. In particular, you need to explain how we determine what factors these institutions should take into account for undergraduate school admissions. Unlike government, the moral imperatives of educational institutions are not well elucidated. Importantly, I don’t think most students will have a preliminary understanding of the philosophy of education, unlike they do with social contract philosophy, for example. I would recommending reading this entry for some background.

Case Positions

Affirmative

  1. Distributive Justice – Research widely suggests that standardized tests have socioeconomic and racial biases. This is to say that people who are poorer and people of color consistently perform worse on these tests than their wealthy white counterparts. Not only that, the entire industry is being shown to be less about evaluating students’ actual competency and instead about corporations making money. Since the first virtue of any social institution is to uphold/promote justice, colleges should do that which promotes justice. Using standardized tests as criteria in admissions directly violates principles of distributive because of the above points. Since colleges are social institutions, this would violate their primary directive. Many different justice theorists like Aristotle and John Rawls can be useful for this position.
  2. Autonomy – One of the most widely accepted theories on the purpose of education is that it is supposed to equip people for becoming autonomously functioning human beings. Standardized tests are the exact opposite; they seek to rob individuals of autonomy by evaluating everyone against the same standards. Since the purpose of education is to promote autonomy, colleges should reject anything to do with standardized tests altogether.

Negative

  1. Economics – Colleges are primarily economic institutions. Their goal is to create individuals who can best contribute to society and its economic welfare and productivity. As such, standardized tests should be a primary criteria for admissions decisions because they are a strong indication of an applicant’s economic viability. If a student has high standardized test scores, they are likely to continue having high test scores throughout college. This is economically beneficial and also a strong indication that the student will have a positive economic contribution once they graduate. Importantly, the most economically productive countries like China and Japan have doubled down on standardized testing, having even more rigorous examinations than the United States.
  2. Justice – The first virtue of any social institution, including colleges, is fairness. Standardized testing is the most fair way we can have of evaluating students. Importantly, upholding the importance of standardized tests sets an objective universal standard of educational justice for the entire system to uphold. This encourages every level of the system to eliminate barriers to students succeeding on standardized tests, which improves fairness across the board.

Well, that’s it for now. Good luck! And don’t forget to check out the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.