Advice for Living

Recently I read an article, originally written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which was adapted from her book My Own Words. She wrote about the advice she was given that helped her in her personal and professional life, and as I read it, I thought “She could have been a psychologist talking to a patient.” Or a parent talking to a child, or a teacher talking to a student.  Her words were directed at women and men and were full of common sense, yet focused enough to be inspiring.  Here is a summary of the advice that she felt contributed to her success as a person, a wife, a mother, and a legal scholar.

  • Her mother made reading a delight and counseled her to be independent and be able to fend for herself. Her teachers also advised her to read, because choosing the right word, or the right word order, could make a big difference in the idea you wanted to convey. And I would add that reading is a way to engage with the world in ways that you might not be able to do in person.
  • Her mother-in-law told her that in every good marriage, it helps to be “a little deaf.” Justice Ginsburg applied this advice not only in her marriage of 56 years, but also in the workplace where she was able to ignore thoughtless or unkind words, and not react in anger.
  • Her father-in-law also gave her meaningful advice. When she was struggling with the decision about whether to go to law school while she had a baby daughter, he told her to stop worrying and find a way to make it work.  And, by moving forward and going to law school, she found herself in a profession that she loved and which provided her with a work-life balance and what she called a “sense of proportion” which she felt her other classmates lacked.
  • Finally, she advises that even when there are strong disagreements about serious issues, as they’re often are with Supreme Court decisions, it is important to respect one another and even be able to enjoy one another’s company. She felt that “collegiality is crucial to the success of our (Supreme Court) mission.”  Certainly, that would apply to work situations in which a team must work together, or even in a family where it is important to work out differences in respectful ways.  For a couple, it can be important to put aside differences and be able to enjoy an activity together. And children must learn that it is okay to disagree but still be friends with others.

Engage with the world through reading, be independent, be “deaf” and ignore little slights, get past your anxiety and move forward with what you want, and learn to disagree and still get along.  What wonderful advice for all of us in today’s world!