She was a Jewish girl raised in Brooklyn. He was an Italian Catholic boy raised in Queens. Both grew to love opera, teaching, traveling, and souvenir shopping. They were opposite ends on the political spectrum.
But they were the best of friends.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia, both Supreme Court justices, enjoyed a relationship with one another that baffled many. Often referred to as “the odd couple”, by their own admission, these two political opposites enjoyed a closeness that defies today’s cultural logic.
They got to know one another in the 1980s as they served together on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit. They viewed the substance of the Constitution differently; Ginsberg saw it as an evolving document as culture shifted, and Scalia believed the Constitution needed to be upheld as the authors intended it, a document outlining the basis of freedom.
Politics, however, never got in the way of their friendship. For years, the two families would celebrate New Year’s Eve together, talking about children, grandchildren, and what sauces best served which food.
Scalia voiced his opinion of their remarkable amicability: “If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake.”
What impresses me is the genuine kindness they had with one another. Even though their politics didn’t agree, they respected each other’s views, allowing graciously for the differences, recognizing that they each were learning from one another. Beyond the disagreements, they had much in common.
They enjoyed one another.
So much so that their commitment to each other was deep. When Judge Roberts announced the death of Justice Ginsberg’s husband, Marty, Justice Scalia openly wept in front of the other justices.
Compassion doesn’t exclude disagreement. It should be strengthened by it.
What these two remarkable individuals discovered is what we often fail to see today; that difference is good. Growth and maturity happen when we engage those who aren’t the same as we are. Disagreement is a springboard for discussion that can cause people to learn more about each other and the world around them.
Too often lately we’ve siloed our attitudes and opinions. Kept them locked in places where they can’t be touched by anything that might cause them to change.
If someone chooses to disagree with us, we too often dismiss them as being irrelevant and nonessential. We put on blinders and plug in our earbuds so all we hear and see is what we want.
That makes for a very narrow point of view.
When God created us each differently, He did so with the idea that none of us is sufficient on our own. Nobody is fully self-contained. We need each other for perspective, to see what we miss, to remind us of what is important.
With the friendship between Justices Ginsberg and Scalia, they enjoyed each other in spite of political dissent. In spite of philosophical differences.
What would it be like if each of us sought to really listen and enjoy those who don’t agree with us? To recognize we don’t know everything and can learn from others.
Maybe we could finally embrace the gift God has given us of difference.
Maybe we could be friends.
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