It’s not every Supreme Court justice that can achieve pop culture icon status. In fact, it’s really just Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known fondly by the Internet as Notorious RBG. While her own son James admits that he wouldn’t have thought of her as “hip,” he's clearly wrong. From GIFs to memes to awesome paraphernalia (which you should already own) and more, RBG is something of a cult figure. And she should be. RBG has spent a lifetime fighting for equality for all, breaking barriers along the way. And she water skied into her 70s. If anyone can teach us about living life right, it’s RBG.
Notorious RBG, authored by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, is a look at the fascinating life of America’s most memed-about Supreme Court Justice. We get to follow her journey from her childhood in Brooklyn to her career as “arguably the toughest justice” on the Supreme Court, as President Obama called her. Her story is inspiring. That she even accomplished some of the things she did — like graduating from law school while raising a toddler and supporting her husband through a bout with cancer — is remarkable. Therefore, the extent of her cumulative achievements will flat-out astound you. (Not to mention inspire some serious RBG awe. You may even find yourself dressing up as her for Halloween.)
In honor of a woman we should all aspire to be more like, here are seven life lessons to take note of, based on Carmon and Knizhnik’s Notorious RBG.
Find Ways To Adapt
RBG managed to become a Supreme Court justice with the odds stacked against her. Not only was she a woman in a time when their opportunities were much more limited than they are today, she was a mother and a Jew. It was a trifecta that many prospective employers took issue with, but she kept her eyes on the prize. Like RBG, it’s important for us to recognize that the system we’re in might work against us, so it’s often on us to carve out our own path.
Don’t Be Afraid To Dissent
When RBG plans on issuing dissent, she does it boldly. She shows up on the bench wearing her special jabot (lace neckware) and lays out exactly how the court got it wrong. During the 2012-2013 term, she read dissents in five cases, breaking a record that had lasted half a century. RBG serves as a reminder that we should all speak out when the majority goes against what we believe is right — and we should do so with flair.
Productivity Is Better Than a Pity Party
There have been numerous trials (in the non-legal sense) in RBG’s life, yet they never seem to slow her down. She’s served on the Supreme Court through two cancer diagnoses — not to mention the subsequent treatments — as well as the death of her beloved husband, Marty Ginsburg. Goals and work seem to get her through difficult times. When Marty was diagnosed with cancer in his final year of law school, for example, she did everything in her power to ensure that he kept thinking about the future and graduated as planned. A pity party won’t help you move forward, but pressing on a step at a time will.
Build A Strong Support System
RBG and Marty had a beautiful partnership. The two divided labor in a way that allowed them both to thrive, and Marty, a lawyer himself, would brag about his wife’s accomplishments. He was particularly fond of highlighting the fact that she did better in law school than he did.
In addition to her relationship with her husband, RBG has formed close friendships with some of her fellow Supreme Court justices, including Sandra Day O’Connor, who became like a big sister to her while they were on the bench together, and Antonin Scalia, whom she’s been known to go shopping with in spite of their often-conflicting opinions. RBG obviously understands the value of a strong support system.
Change Takes Time
Back when RBG was still arguing before the Supreme Court, rather than part of it, she experienced both exhilarating victories and disappointing defeats. At times, both came at once — a decision might make some positive changes, while reaffirming other unfortunate traditions. RBG learned that society couldn’t transform overnight. “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time,” she has said.
Think Big Picture
RBG knows how to pick her battles. As much as she’s known for her scathing dissents, she’s also willing to consider (and often adopt) changes that her fellow justices request to the opinions and dissents she writes. RBG knows that to make an impact, we often have to make be willing to make concessions.
Live Life On Your Own Terms
RBG has faced critics telling her that she should retire so that President Obama can be the one to appoint her replacement (rather than a more conservative president), but she has held strong. She knows that she has more to offer, so she continues to do the job she loves.
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