RBG: Tough As Nails
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or as her personal trainer calls her "TAN," for Tough As Nails. This woman truly was tough as nails, and we can learn a lot from her. She has been described as approaching her workouts with "ferocious determination and without complaint." I imagine she took this approach to many things in her life. She did the work because it was what must be done, any expression of complaint is simply a drain of her energy that could be used more productively.
Ruth went above and beyond the call of duty of human being, American woman, lawyer, mother, daughter, wife, and justice. When she found out she was pregnant prior to starting law school, her in-laws told her that she didn't have to go to law school if she didn't want to and she has the best reason not to, but if she did want to go to law school, she will figure out a way to do it. Ruth has said that she applied this principle to everything in her life, "I've approached everything since that way...do I want this or not? And if I do, I'll do it." You just find a way.
Ruth's actions throughout her life embody a humble person of strong moral character, who did the important work. I mean, really did the important work. She worked so hard, and in a manner that demonstrated her desire to engage in the work in a meaningful and selfless way, not for recognition or esteem by others. She believed in doing the job to the best of her ability, and exhibited immense consistency in her ability to align her actions with that belief. Ruth said, "I just try to do the good job that I have to the best of my ability, and I really don't think about whether I'm inspirational. I just do the best I can." We hear that a lot, "do the best you can." But Ruth truly did that. She spared no energy or moment to whole-heartedly do her best. Kathleen Peratis, a woman who succeeded Ruth as director of the Women's Rights Project at ACLU, described her in the following way: "Ruth is almost pure work." To me, this is the utmost compliment a person can receive. Immensely better than being told you are talented. Being described as "pure work," really indicates what you are about, that you are willing to try.
In her dissent on the voting rights case in 2012, she famously quoted MLK and added a little RBG: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice, if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion." Her addendum oozes RBG in every sense. She borrows the passionate and poetic inspiration of MLK, and instills the means of achieving justice through steadfast commitment. She's really talking about grit. The willingness to keep going, to consistently follow through, to remain engaged in the process and really do the work.
It's those values that allowed her to become the person she was. She read, and learned, and wrote, and rewrote, and relearned, and maybe most importantly, she listened. These practiced and diligently honed skills allowed her to leave a legacy that is painted with passion, persistence, and power. Of course, a word that comes to mind when we think of RBG is "Dissent." I also think of "Defiance," and "Disruptor." RBG was able to accomplish so much and influence so many because of that persistence, wisdom, and patience. Her steadfast commitment to seeing the task, whatever it may be, through to completion, allowed her to maintain the drive through her 87 years to never back down from a challenge.
Ruth's patience is not only with herself, but with society and the people around her. She stated, "Don't ask them to go too far too fast, or you'll lose what you might've won." Again, a lesson from Ruth that is applicable to everything. Not only do we need to meet ourselves where we are at, we must also meet everyone else where they are at. We must be patient with each other to continue moving forward. We can't ask too much of ourselves at any given moment, or we risk taking steps backward. We must ask of ourselves and of each other what we are truly capable of at any given moment. No more and no less.
Later in her life, Ruth said, "It is as though a special, zestful spice seasons my work and days. Each thing I do comes with a heightened appreciation that I am able to do it." Yes, Ruth, yes. She appreciated her ability to accomplish, not just the accomplishment. The process is everything. Living life like it is a ladder to be climbed is no way to appreciate where you are at, how high you've climbed, what view you see from each rung. Pausing to be grateful for your existence and ability to do and be is paramount.
People have the most wonderful things to say about Ruth, and she has left us with so many brilliant words, but one of the greatest things I think said about her was from one of her friends, another feminist lawyer, Marcia Greenberger: "RBG was never in it to be the only one, to be the superstar that nobody could match." No, RBG wanted to bring everyone with her. She wanted to help everyone be of equal stature. So in the spirit of RBG, let's lift each other up. Be helpful. Support one another. Give people the credit they are due and help them achieve their potential. Help them believe they have potential. Support them in trying to do it, and appreciating that they can.