• Bill Petrie

The Blind Spot

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Requiem

It's human nature that people concurrently seek to agree and disagree. For example, we decry the robotic answers given by athletes while, at the same time, we get upset when they speak passionately about their beliefs. Perhaps a different way to look at it is that its human nature to want others to agree with us on every topic, and, when they don't, it causes us to question our beliefs as it isn't always easy to look in the mirror. This is why communication between people or groups who differ is so imperative. When discourse is respectful, it leads to eye-opening growth, connections, and understanding; when it's not, it can lead to blind spots, assumptions, and division.

I share all of this because Ruth Bader Ginsburg – who passed away this past Friday – was a trailblazer in a nation that seems to punish the voice of dissent in many ways. As noted by many, she was a trailblazer as the second female and the Supreme Court's first Jewish woman justice. She was always an advocate for the advancement of gender equality and women's rights, but she is likely best known for those fiery dissents that she elevated to an art form.

Described as a "tigress on civil procedure" by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, she seized on the privilege of writing dissents when she felt the court's ruling majority was wrong. In one famous dissent (Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.), she delivered a scathing dissent from the bench accusing the eight male justices of being indifferent to the gender pay gap. "The court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination."

You can scour the internet for other dissents as it's not my objective to catalog them here. Instead, my focus is on how the "Notorious RBG" as she was sometimes known, was able to dissent from her peers – publicly and vehemently – without a single note of rancor. In fact, one of her closest friends was the aforementioned Antonin Scalia, who was a staunch conservative appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan.

Let that sink in for a minute. One of Ginsburg's closest friends had a completely different political ideology, yet they got along famously. That is a testament to both individuals and an example of the best of who we are as a nation.

When I think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I think of someone who stood up for what she believed in without apology. She did it passionately, thoughtfully, and fiercely. All the while, she was held in the highest regard by her peers, even those who disagreed with her. To dissent in such a way as to be respected by the opposition is a rare gift - one that will be missed.

This post isn't about politics or a belief system - please don't make it one. It's about the need to have different perspectives so that all voices are heard. The same is true in any organization – other voices, thoughts, experiences, and views make for a more robust and more progressive collective. If everyone thinks the exact same way – if there isn't some manner of friction that causes people to think about the other possibilities – whatever progress there is will be muted at best. The dissenting voice is the one that gives pause so that different potentials can be considered. The dissenting voice is not only important; it's necessary.

Her death leaves an enormous void on the Supreme Court's bench, regardless of who fills that seat. She paved the way for women and became a national icon because she asked the right questions (usually the first one), cobbled together majorities, and wrote elegant and eloquent opinions. When asked why she felt it essential to read – not just file – her dissents to explain her perspective, she said, "if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow."

Today, the court – and a nation – has a blind spot.

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