While a host of issues continually pop up in our national conversation, there’s a recurring theme to each: How drastically we’re divided on them.
It doesn’t help at all that we’re in the throes of a presidential election, or that this election has been punctuated by bombast and fervor. But even in our off years as of late, our divisions become a sidebar to every story. Political rancor in Washington was a major theme of Obama’s initial campaign and the argument that our lawmakers should “reach across the aisle” appears just often enough to indicate that policiticians realize how we, as a public, can see this plainly, too, even if no one really knows what to do about it.
Against this backdrop of anger and resentment, we can learn a lot from the friendship shared by Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, who died Saturday.
In a statement released Sunday, Ginsburg called Scalia her “best buddy.”
“It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend,” Ginsburg said.
Scalia at one point said of Ginsburg “what’s not to like? Except her views on the law, of course.”
There is some strange allure to friendships that exist in the halls of power, especially when views differ so widely, and there’s something there we should take to heart. Leaders are the embodiment of our partisan leaning, and no two Supreme Court justices likely held that embodiment like Ginsburg and Scalia. Ginsburg has her liberal, pro-woman admirers, Scalia had his conservative, plain-text Constitutional admirers. Without holding political office, they each managed to find a politically charged following.
And yet, incredibly, they managed to find a way to be friends with each other?
But we shouldn’t find these friendships shocking. In fact, we shouldn’t even be surprised. Ginsburg and Scalia had been colleagues for a long time. They shared a passion for jurisprudence, even if they didn’t see eye-to-eye on what the application of it should be.
More to the point, though, Scalia and Ginsburg are human beings who viewed each other as fellow human beings, not as merely the sum total of their political leanings or beliefs. In addition to their respect for each others’ public and professional dealings, they saw past it enough to simply enjoy each others’ company.
This should be a lesson to us. We should have strong views on issues. We should acknowledge our biases and not be ashamed of them. But we should also remember that behind each of those biases and opinions is a distinct person with a history and experiences and reasons for thinking the way they do. Of course our conclusions are different, and although those conclusions rarely come from a place of malice or spite, they can often escalate to something not unlike malice or spite as they come in conflict with contrary opinions.
Resolving those disagreements into common ground won’t come from an unwillingness to back down or the ability to shout louder. And even when our differences can’t be mitigated, we owe it to each other to at least maintain respect.
Ginsburg and Scalia didn’t have spite or malice for each other, even when they had marked differences of opinion. As we go forward in our public lives, no matter how intractable our differences may be, it’s a good thing for all of us to keep in mind.