October 1, 2020

Building Peak-Performance Cultures #35 – Ginsburg & Scalia: Honoring Our Opposites

By Rob Andrews

Ten weeks ago, I wrote about self-deception, which causes people and organizations to get stuck in old patterns, old behaviors, old thinking, and old prejudices. Organizations comprised of people who possess the same mindset they’ve always had will continue to produce the same results they’ve always produced. If they have struggled with the very common challenges of prejudice, low engagement, poor collaboration, and lack of innovation, these problems will continue – unless they change what is actually causing the problems.

We are most definitely navigating turbulent waters, and things seem to be getting more contentious by the day. In my view, the Presidential debates last night were embarrassing. Neither candidate looked presidential. I long for the days when we debated issues, compromised, and made the best decisions for the country. Issues that have plagued us for a very long time are surfacing in a manner that requires all of us, as a human family, to look more carefully at ourselves, our society, our institutions, our businesses, and how we see one another.

The remarkable relationship between recently departed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia is a fabulous example of how individuals and organizations of all types can coexist and leverage diversity, which is an asset, not a liability. Not just diversity of race, creed, and gender, but of ideology. Justices Ginsburg and Scalia were, ideologically, polar opposites. Scalia, an “originalist,” believed the Constitution was an enduring document not meant to be subject to “whimsical change.” Ginsburg believed the founders filled the document with “grand ideas” meant to develop as society developed. Ideological opposites, but close friends.

How do two individuals who disagree on so much forge such an enduring bond? By respecting each other and their commonalities.

“They were both New Yorkers, close in age, and liked a lot of the same things: the law, teaching, travel, music and a meal with family and friends,” wrote Scalia’s son, Eugene. “They had a bond, I think, in that they both grew up as outsiders – to different degrees – to the elites who had ruled the country: she as a Jew and woman, he as a Catholic and Italian American.”

They also shared a love for the opera, which offered a world apart from the divisive, divided one of politics. Fred Plotkin, writing for Operavore, observed that “For both of them what mattered was not just the beautiful music, but the moral implications of stories about human nature and extreme gestures of passion or revenge.” Scalia and Ginsburg often dined and attended the opera together – no doubt enjoying a spirited conversation about it afterward. “I loved the combination of glorious [music] and high drama”, Ginsburg said. “When I go to the opera, I’m just lost in it. Loving it. And I don’t think about any legal brief.”

Scalia also explained that their “appreciation” for each other’s differences was “as integral to the justices’ friendship as the similarities.” “What we can learn from the justices, beyond how to be a friend,” Scalia wrote, “is how to welcome debate and differences.” Their disagreements remained intellectual – seeking the truth. Ginsburg’s dozens of opinions and dissents were famous for their complexity and clarity of reasoning; they were strongly worded at times, but never disrespectful. To sum up their friendship, Ginsburg quoted Scalia: “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas.”

What we are reminded is that their differences were addressed in continued intellectual conversation, appreciating that ideological differences are not moral defects. Human beings have many facets that make us unique – and many points of view.

Finding common ground is how we can move a conversation forward and find consensus, with civility and respect for the common good. Ginsburg and Scalia fiercely debated issues but carefully avoided dehumanizing one another.

Dehumanization is caused by a fundamental blindness to the humanity of others – to see a person’s color, religion, nationality, politics, or other distinguishing attributes, instead of seeing a person, another child of God, and a fellow member of the human family. It is to believe that others, who don’t look like us, think like us and/or believe like us, don’t matter like we matter; that others don’t count the way we count. It is the objectification of others which, when unchecked, spreads like wildfire. When we see people, who are different as less than, or less worthy, we encourage the mistreatment of others even if we’re not aware of it.

As an organization, we are examining ourselves, and looking for ways we can improve. We know there are ways in which we must improve, and there are biases and blind spots we must address. The conviction to see others, to recognize our shared humanity, and to ensure equality, diversity, and inclusion is a commitment we must and will make. We are committed to this conversation, and to becoming an example for others.

A first step to leveraging the beautiful diversity in your organization is to decide. Just like deciding to abandon an abusive lifestyle in favor of optimal health, a decision comes first, then an assessment of your current health, and a plan to improve. If this material causes you to want to improve the cultural health of your organization, give us a call.

Warmest Regards,