Ruth Bader Ginsberg: Living beyond difference

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and according to an obscure Jewish tradition, because of the timing of her death she is considered a tzaddik, a righteous person. There is no doubt in the minds of many that RBG as she was known, had high moral standards and lived a life of virtue. One attribute of her righteousness was that she was able to see the value in people regardless of whether she resonated or agreed with their ideas. A case in point was her friendship with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was known as the intellectual anchor on the Supreme Court for the conservative wing.

RBG was known for her liberal points of view so one can only wonder how the two from completely different perspectives were able to not only figure out how to co-exist, but actually develop a friendship? I listened to a recording of RGB reflecting on her meeting Scalia and she said she listened in on a lecture he gave at the University of Chicago Law School where he was teaching, before they both served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Court of Columbia Circuit. She said that she disagreed with almost every point of view he stated, but she admired the way he constructed his argument and made his points.

In that example, she was able to hold as the highest order of context (as per the CMM hierarchy model) the intelligence, framing and compelling point of view Scalia put forth. Being able to hold that as the highest context allowed her to develop respect for Scalia and the compassion and intelligence from which he operated. This gave her the space to look beyond their differences and not let them block her from getting to know someone who she ended up admiring and learning from very much.

Another illustration about their friendship was that they were both proud grandparents and enjoyed sharing stories about their grandchildren. Their identities were not only Supreme Court Justices, rather multi-faceted in that they were able to be grandparents, and have senses of humor, and be adventurous, and, and, and. In other words, they did not reduce each other into a black and white world with polarized points of view unable to bridge the divide between them. Instead, they recognized and accepted they held different perspectives and that was okay because there were other aspects of each other that they really liked and admired.

If they stopped at polarization they would never have been able to learn from each other and enjoy each other’s company as complex, multi-faceted humans. There is a lesson in here for all of us about being able to see beyond difference and find a way to identify the meta-narrative and highest order of context that can bring us all together.

Beth Fisher-Yoshida

Commentary and news
What does the CMM Institute do?


Want to learn more about the Coordinated Management of Meaning?


Want to support us?



Support the work of the CMM Institute!