THE BLOG
02/16/2017 05:32 pm ET

It's not whining-it's empathy

Recently, a conservative, Christian family member of mine posted to Facebook an interview with James Franco on the Daily Beast where the actor expressed his feelings of depression since Trump's election. Since most members of my family are Christian and conservative, their comments that followed expressed cynicism for Franco's feelings, claiming that someone so out of touch with most of society had no place to complain about how trump's election would affect him. Other comments claimed that millennials like Franco who feel sad at the recent turn of events politically are unable to cope with not getting their way, and these feelings of "depression" are really just pouting. This emotionally coddled generation is, according to the respondents of this Facebook post, unable to deal with even the easiest of life's challenges. Reactions to an article in the University of Miami Hurricane offer a good example of how conservatives respond to new outlets like intellectual safe spaces, which are meant to provide a neutral zone to individuals experiencing the senses of anxiety and stress brought on by living in a place where one can experience hostility as a reaction to their race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or even political outlook.

Franco is not alone. I and others I know are experiencing a real sense of sadness about the effects of Trump's policies on other people and the environment, which will, eventually, also affect people who will lack the resources to deal with the forthcoming environmental degradation. I argue, however, that these feelings are not the feelings of a sore loser. This sense of sadness comes from a deep concern for the well-being of others. We are empathizing with those in our society who have become seriously endangered because of trump's destructive policies and, perhaps most dangerous, the condoned expressions of hate against those who disagree with these policies.

I am no psychologist or theologian. I study religion, but from a social science perspective. I cannot even claim that I am Christian. I do, however, know what Christians believe, though perhaps I should say that I know what Christians are supposed to believe based on what my Sunday School teachers taught me. I was taught that Christians are supposed to love everyone, even if their beliefs differ from my own and even if they look differently than I do. Above all, Christians are supposed to be kind to and help others. Christians are supposed to have empathy for the suffering of other human beings.

I am frustrated that millennials, and I myself am proud to be a millennial, are so often dismissed as being lazy and spoiled. Rather, I think that millennials, including James Franco, are notably more empathic than my parents' generation. I think that the millennial generation has fully grasped the values that many of us were taught by our conservative, Christian parents: be kind, help others, love others. We live in a nation legislated by people who claim to be Christians. A Christian identity is honored here even by donald trump, who has extended an exception to Christians living in nations affected by the recent refugee ban. So why do these Christians not care for others?

A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that evangelical Christianity in the United States is hemorrhaging membership, mainly through the abandonment of this form of religion by millennials. Is it any wonder that it is difficult to remain faithful to a religious tradition that does not actually practice the teachings of its core religious text? How are we supposed to reconcile this cognitive dissonance?

I have hope for the future of our nation because I think that my generation is actually taking at face value the things that Jesus said about a just society. Upon donald trump's election, we feel sad because we worry about what his policies will do to harm others, many of whom are society's most vulnerable: nonwhite people, non-heteronormative people, immigrants, etc. I'd like to say to white, conservative, Christians: Just because you can't empathize with the hardships of others doesn't mean millennials like James Franco can't either.

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