At a time when the country seems more and more divided, it can be a lot to ask of a person to "love thy neighbor," even when they don't necessarily love you back. It takes an aggressive kind of love to start engaging, and that's the idea that inspired the title track of Ani DiFranco's newest record, Revolutionary Love. The phrase is also the name of a book by DiFranco's good friend, activist Valarie Kaur, which encourages an understanding of one's adversaries.
"She sort of gives it three faces: this love for self, love for others and love for your opponents," DiFranco says. "I think, first of all, it means seeing no stranger. You know? It means, even with your opponents, to look into another's face and say, you are part of me I will start from there. You're a part of myself I do not know well enough. Valarie talks about looking for the wound in your opponent. They might be doing all kinds of bad actions, you know? They might be doing negative things, but to search within that for the wound in them and to find the courage in yourself to tend the wound."
Ani DiFranco spoke with NPR's Sarah McCammon about translating those ideas into her songwriting on Revolutionary Love, and how events like the storming of the U.S. Capitol can test the boundaries of a "turn the other cheek" philosophy. Hear more of the conversation at the audio link.
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
At a time when the country seems more and more divided, it can be a lot to ask of a person to love thy neighbor, even when they don't necessarily love you back. It takes an aggressive kind of love, what you might call revolutionary love. And that inspired the title track to the new album by Ani DiFranco.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REVOLUTIONARY LOVE")
ANI DIFRANCO: (Singing) No, you can't make me hate you and carry that hate around.
MCCAMMON: "Revolutionary Love" is based on a concept offered in a book by her good friend, Valarie Kaur.
DIFRANCO: She sort of gives it three faces - love for self, love for others and love for your opponents.
MCCAMMON: Yeah, your opponents. That's not something you think about quite as much. What does that mean, loving your opponents?
DIFRANCO: Yeah, that's one of the trickiest. I think, first of all, it means seeing no stranger. You know, it means even with your opponents, to look into another's face and say, you are part of me. You're a part of myself I do not know well enough. Valarie talks about looking for the wound in your opponent. They might be doing all kinds of bad actions, but to search within that for the wound in them and to find the courage in yourself to tend the wound.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REVOLUTIONARY LOVE")
DIFRANCO: (Singing) Yeah, I will see no stranger, only parts of myself I don't yet know. Yes, and I'll see right through evil to a wound too scared to show.
MCCAMMON: It actually kind of reminds me of, you know, love your neighbor or turn the other cheek, you know, which comes from the New Testament in the Bible. And it - and, sometimes, that idea is criticized as being kind of weak, right? Like, especially when you have an enemy who is at war. And I don't mean war literally necessarily, but even like what we saw at the beginning of this month, where there is a segment of the population that's willing to literally overthrow the government. I mean, how does loving your opponent work when the stakes are really high?
DIFRANCO: I think if you can remain open - you know, the minute you closed down, you have prevented the bridge from being built with your opponent. So even when their actions are very destructive or negative or hurtful, to keep asking why. You know, you talk about the people who stormed the Capitol. If I continue to try to engage - not that I have direct contact with those particular people. But why that action? Why those feelings? Where do they come from? I can find connections within myself with the way I think and feel. You know, the system is rigged. Yes, I feel that, too. You know...
MCCAMMON: But you don't feel that the election was stolen because we know that it was not. So how do you stay open, as you say, when people are spreading lies and dangerous ones?
DIFRANCO: The thing about revolutionary love is to not roll over and accept the bad actions of your opponents, but it is to continue feeling compassion and curiosity for how they got to where they are. And from that relationship, I think you can draw people closer to the truth if they are falling for the lies. You know, you cannot do that without compassion and respect.
MCCAMMON: That's really hard and really exhausting, though, isn't it?
DIFRANCO: It is. It's totally exhausting, even dangerous, you know, because your opponent can continue to do harm while you are trying to engage them with your revolutionary love. So I think love for self - taking care of yourself, meeting your own needs, making sure you are safe - you know, all of these things come first. It's only from after you have taken care of yourself and made sure that you are safe that you can engage in this very difficult, tricky, sticky work of engaging your opponent.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIMULTANEOUSLY")
DIFRANCO: (Singing) Yeah, my inner world is fragile. And the outer world is done. And this whole thing is such a hassle. Won't you wake me when it's done?
MCCAMMON: That's Ani DiFranco. Her new album is called "Revolutionary Love," and it's out today. Ani, thank you so much.
DIFRANCO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.