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Oct 12, 2020
Three Lessons from Ruth Bader Ginsburg that Every Professional Should Take to Heart
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has prompted an outpouring of reflection on her substantial legacy. From being an accomplished jurist to an internet sensation, dubbed the Notorious RBG, there is so much we could say about Ginsburg, but we thought we’d instead let her speak to us with three quotes that bring enduring lessons.
Be persistent. Despite stellar academic performance at Harvard Law School and graduating top of her class at Columbia Law School, Ginsburg had trouble getting an interview—much less a job—after graduating because she was a woman and mother. Facing disappointment never deterred her, whether in her career aspirations or when hearing cases on the Supreme Court. Ginsburg explained how she responded when she found herself in the minority view on the court:
"I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day."
Be persuasive. A woman of strong convictions, Ginsburg also possessed great tact and diplomacy. Though they held vastly divergent views, she was good friends with Justice Antonin Scalia. They enjoyed attending the opera together. She once noted, “You can disagree without being disagreeable." Being able to be clear and winsome is ultimately more effective than being pugnacious. Justice Ginsburg encouraged others, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Be principled. Ginsburg knew that taking a stand doesn't always mean a tidy, happy ending. The Justice became known on the court for her well-articulated dissents. She even had a particular jabot, or decorative collar, she’d wear when dissenting. If it was a matter she felt particularly strongly about, she would read her dissent aloud from the bench. A rare move for a Justice, this allowed her to speak to the importance of a particular issue. Ginsburg shared, "Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, 'My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.' But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow."
One final note on legacy. Ginsburg once asked, “What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s garment district and a Supreme Court justice?” Her simple response: “One generation.” Justice Ginsburg not only broke barriers throughout her life, from being the first woman to serve on Harvard Law Review to her influential work with the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, but she was the first woman and first Jewish American to lie in state at the capital. When asked in an interview how she’d like to be remembered, Justice Ginsburg replied she’d like to be remembered as "Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”