Dear Family,

Is there an opponent in your life you want to engage, or need to? You don’t need to think of your worst opponents. Perhaps someone who makes you ask: How do we listen when it’s hard? 

This week’s toolkit is on how to LISTEN to opponents. 

Let’s start with a definition. An “opponent” is anyone whose beliefs or ideas or actions oppose your own. I don’t use the word “enemy.” An enemy is a fixed and permanent identity; opponent is a fluid category that makes space for change.

The key to listening is to seek to understand our opponents – not to change them, persuade them, compromise with them, or legitimize them. It begins with wonder. When we work to listen beneath the slogans and soundbites, we begin to hear their story and see their wound. Listening preserves their humanity and our own. And it opens up the possibility of transformation.

Everyone has a different role in the labor at any given time. If you’re not in a place to think about opponents right now, just bookmark this toolkit for the future. Instead, see our GRIEVE practice and RAGE practice. But if there are opponents in your life you are ready to work with, read on. Go gently. This is courageous work, and even if you don’t see the fruits of your labor anytime soon, simply engaging your opponents with the ethic of love is revolutionary.


Think of someone you consider an opponent. Notice what is happening in your body as you see their face. If you feel activated — heart beating fast, throat closing in, any kind of constriction —  that is information that this might not be the time to listen to them. This might be the time to process your own trauma, grief, and rage. So take that information in and know that there are other practices on the compass to help you with that work.

Now think of an opponent who it is safe for you to wonder about. When you see their face, maybe you feel a little activation, but it’s not overwhelming. That is information that you might be emotionally safe. Now ask yourself, Is it physically safe for me to sit with this person and wonder about them? If yes, continue.

Wonder about your opponent. Why do they behave that way? What is the wound that is driving them? How would they behave if they did not carry that pain or that wound, whether or not they even know it’s there? How would they behave if they were fully safe and free — at home in their bodies and at home in the world?

What do you need to do now with your opponent? This meditation might be enough. Or you might be ready to call them. You might choose to sit with them in order to understand them. Or you might ask another to reach out to tend to them. Trust your own wisdom.

If you are able and ready to listen, you can start small. You do not need to choose your most challenging opponents to listen to. You can start by practicing wonder, building small bridges of understanding with the people closest to you, and strengthening your listening skills like a muscle, one conversation at a time.

Reflect in your wisdom journal: What are you learning about how to listen? What is challenging? How do you keep returning to wonder?  Remember that when we feel like we have reached our limit, wondering about our opponents returns us to love.


Read an Excerpt

“My friend Sister Simone Campbell helps me understand some of the people I cannot talk to in person. As an attorney and progressive nun, she crisscrosses the country as part of “Nuns on the Bus,” holding listening tours to find common ground with disaffected white conservatives. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, on a stop in Indianapolis, she listened as a white man railed at her about the immigrants and Muslims invading “his” country. His parents worked hard, his grandparents worked hard, and for what? He was going to vote for Trump, because Trump understood him. Sister Simone wanted to tell him that the economic policies that would actually help him were championed by progressives, not Trump. But she stopped herself. She pushed herself to be curious. You have a story, and I need to hear it, she thought. She kept listening—and then she heard his pain. She picked up on a refrain that his parents worked hard and wanted a better future for him. “It sounds like you feel ashamed that you did not live up to your parents’ expectations,” she said. His eyes filled with tears. That was it. The need to belong. To be seen. To be loved. To succeed. To matter. His rage was a symptom of his pain.” –excerpt from SEE NO STRANGER, Chapter 5

Start here with our introduction to the compass. I teach ten core practices of revolutionary love, backed by research and infused with ancestral wisdom. Imagine these practices as points on a compass. Point the compass toward whomever you want to practice loving— another, an opponent, or yourself. Decide what practice you need. You can use this compass as a tool in all arenas in your life.

Listen to Valarie walk you through the compass and explore stories, lesson plans, meditations, and music on our learning hub. Click here to explore!

Take the Revolutionary Love Training Course. Just pop in your earbuds and go on a journey with me. Intimate, inspirational, and practical, this course is a deep immersion in the practices of revolutionary love: How do we love when it’s hard? How do we tend the wounds in ourselves, and others? How do we stay awake to the world and still find breath, pleasure, and joy in our bodies? If you are hungry for transformation that bridges the political and personal, spirituality and social justice, this is for you.