Vaster Than Empires and More Slow
This is a classic short-story from Ursula Le Guin, one of the greatest sci-fi writers ever. You can find it in her collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters. It’s not long but it has a powerful empathic message at the heart of it. I don’t want to give the story away, but essentially a bunch of humans and alien beings travel to a faraway planet. One of them has extraordinarily high levels of ‘bioempathic receptivity’: he has an acute sensitivity to other people’s feelings and thoughts (including about himself). In a way, he is overloaded with empathy. The crew land on a mysterious planet that appears to have no life forms. Then strange things start to happen…and empathy is the key to understanding the mysteries before them.
I think Le Guin’s empathic insights come in part from her family background. Both her parents were famous anthropologists, and she has that anthropological knack for getting inside the mindsets of different cultures and worldviews – which is very much what empathy (particularly cognitive empathy) is all about.
I also think it’s worth reading another of her short stories for its empathic content, called The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas