When people think of empathy, they tend to see it as a soft skill — as a yielding and pleasing kind of behavior. They think: If you listen to me and agree with me and make me feel good, that’s empathy. If you fix my problems and soothe everything, that’s empathy. Empathy equals niceness.
But there’s actually a deeper form of empathy that transcends mere niceness and helps us engage with people across lines of discord, difficulty, pain, and trouble. I call this a full-bodied empathy, and it is a deeply emotive process that makes room for things that that don’t feel good and don’t seem particularly nice.