I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being. Jackie Robinson
A few days ago, news of the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia hit the news. Literally within minutes, the loss of a key figure in American jurisprudence spawned a frenzy of both conservative and liberal maneuvering and accusation. Both sides heated into a debate over the process of naming his successor before Justice Scalia’s body had cooled. Controversy swirled as to whether the President would honor the deceased Justice by attending his funeral or not. What were the nation’s politicians (and the public in general) missing here?
Basically this: A great friendship existed between two people who rarely agreed at work or in principle, but each had the wisdom, tolerance, and maturity to transcend philosophical differences and remain friends over decades. Scalia was an Italian American Roman Catholic with very conservative leanings; Ginsberg is a liberal Jew from New York who advocated for women’s rights for years.
And yet the two impressive jurists had some similarities. Both attended prestigious universities and law schools. Each remained married to their first (and only) spouse for many decades. Scalia and Bader-Ginsberg were loving parents. Indeed, it could be said that their friendship was likely built upon shared values.
Still their profound philosophical differences could easily have fomented enmity, but these two judicial giants CHOSE not to allow that to transpire. Both Ruth and Antonin realized that such ill will would compromise their ability to do their jobs effectively. Dialogue and debate are the fundamental tools of their profession and role as justices. Unmasked hostility would have made such discussion far more problematic. Civility was a necessity.
But this “unmatched pair” of justices achieved more than civility. They were friends. How was this possible? Each of them was willing to focus on areas of agreement in the area of human values and personal respect.
So what should all of us take from the modeled behavior of these two wise colleagues? Simply this. Is our own life compromised at times by our unwillingness to look past differences to see agreements and the potential for consensus for the benefit of all? Who in our lives have we shut off because of a single argument or area of disagreement? Have we squandered a valuable friendship over a trivial moment of hostility or pique?
It’s time to journey into our metaphorical garage, grab a hammer, a few nails, and mend a fence. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll release your former friend’s ability to do the same.
Civility is not about dousing strongly held views. It’s about making sure that people are willing to respect other perspectives. Jim Leach