We’re Lacking in Empathy and Literary Fiction Might Just Be the Key

By Christina Vitakis.

An abundance of untouched books sits in the Media Center. Students being too busy and focused on other aspects of life to read them.

Technologically Savvy, Conscious, Pragmatic Idealists, Frugal, Diverse, Adventurous; all these words are characteristics used to describe Millennials and the current generation of teenagers, Generation Z. However, one word is not on that list: Empathetic.

Empathy is the ability to experience emotions and put oneself into the shoes of another. This means that Millennials and Generation Z struggle to place themselves in the situation of others and relate to it. Although we are lacking in empathy, we still do have compassion for one another. Compassion is the ability to feel sorry for one another. However, empathy is still important in being able to feel deeply for one another rather than just a quick, “I’m sorry for you.”

Imagine being at a funeral for a friend’s family member. Everyone is dressed in black, and various floral wreaths are hung around. A light chatter fills the air in the back of the room. In the front stands your friend and her family crying. As you go to greet them, you make sure to mention everything you’re supposed to say when someone loses a loved one.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“They’re in a better place now.”

That, right there, is compassion. However, one needs to take it a couple steps further in order to reach empathy. One needs to place themselves in a similar situation in order to understand the emotions of your friend. Once one is able to do so, it allows a connection in the brain to form between the two people. On top of that, it comforts your friend in order to allow them to understand they’re not going through everything alone.

Empathy is incredibly important to feel, and Millennials and Generation Z are lacking in such. So how do we as a generation improve? The answer might lie in a book. New studies from The New School in New York City have been proving over the past few years that there is actually a connection between reading literary fiction and improving the amount of empathy one has. In order to be able to connect to one another and understand the emotions of another, we absolutely need to read more literary fiction.

Literary fiction is not just any type of novel writing. Rather, it is a type of style that includes plot twists that the reader does not expect. It adds to the imagination and allows the reader to consider a possibility which they never have before. It allows the reader to place themselves into the perspective of another and feel their emotions to understand them better.

Instead of reading literary fiction, however, schools now tend to focus on state testing. The focus of school is now immensely focused on standardized testing and achieving the highest possible score. However, this does not improve our brains as a society, nor does it allow an emotional growth. These two aspects are important to improve upon as we cannot achieve better as a society until we learn to achieve better as individuals.

School is not the sole obstacle in the way. Millennials and Generation Z are known for being some of the most busy people. Between maintaining studies, jobs, and balancing relationships, finding the time to read a novel can be difficult. When I shared a post on my personal Instagram asking students if they would read more novels if they had the time, about 67% said yes. This could be one of the reasons why NRHS’s new class, Reading for Pleasure, has taken off so well, because it gives a space for students to read what they want to read.

Still, understanding and reading literary fiction is something that needs to be refocused into our lives as Millennials and Generation Z. Although I understand we have a thousand different things going on, what do any of our achievements matter if we’re unable to connect to one another as people? We need to be able to share those experiences with one another and feel the same joy both for ourselves and each other, and literary fiction might just be the key to being able to do so.

**The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various column authors on this Website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Royal News Staff or North Royalton High School.

Christina Vitakis

Christina Vitakis is a junior currently studying at North Royalton High School. She’s a member of yearbook club, student council, drama club, International Thespian Society, Key Club, and volunteers as publicity manager for the school’s plays. She also has a part-time job at Michael’s Arts and Craft Store. Despite maintaining (and whining about) a busy schedule, she spends her spare time hanging out with her friends and reading. She also has a soft spot for poetry, puns, and photography. She hopes to find a career in advertising after graduating college.