Values: The friendship of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia: The best game

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I find it amazingly wonderful that Justices Ginsberg and Scalia were able to have such a close friendship with such differing political views. They met in the early 1980’s as judges on the U.S. appeals court in Washington. Justice Ginsberg had seen Justice Scalia speak at a law conference before either of them had become judges and said that she “disagreed with most of what he said, but I loved the way he said it”. There have been rumors that Justice Scalia had something to do with getting Justice Ginsburg appointed to the Supreme Court. Since then their families have vacationed together and always celebrated New Year’s Eve together. She referred to him as “Nino”, and they often went to the Opera together.

I so enjoy reading about their friendship because it gives me hope that our nation can start to come together in a different way than we have been able to so far. I think I have an idea of how they were able to do it. They were able to keep from making moralistic judgments about each other. By this I mean they didn’t decide the other person was good or bad depending on what they said or did. This is contrary to what we have been taught to do all of our lives. We live in a society that thrives on moralistic judgments. We believe there are right things and wrong things to do. This is what we are seeing played out right now in our politics. If somebody believes differently than we do, they are wrong, and even more so they are a bad person.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have values. We all have beliefs we are emotionally invested in, things we feel strongly about. For me it’s compassionate communication. Marshall Rosenberg talked about how it’s important to make judgments, to decide what actions will best meet our needs. But that’s different than deciding that actions are good or bad, right or wrong; those are moralistic judgments. When we do that, we are separating ourselves from the ability to connect with others. This leads to conflict.

I imagine that Justice Ginsberg and Scalia were instead able to connect with each other using the needs they had in common. They both had a love for law and the constitution. They saw the constitution differently, but they also loved playing the game of law. I think that is how they could differ so much on decisions, and yet appreciate watching the other play the game. Neither one took the other’s beliefs personally; they just enjoyed and appreciated how the other person played. They also spent time together enjoying things they had in common, such as a love for opera and family. They developed trust in their abilities to contribute to each other.

Marshall Rosenberg talked about the game of compassionate communication. He found that contributing to another’s well being was the most fun game he had ever found. He believed that contributing to others was the most fulfilling game humans will ever find. But to play this game we have to see other’s without moralistic judgment. When we start judging whether or not someone is good or bad, what they are, we can’t really see who they are. Justices Ginsberg and Scalia were able to see who the other person was. They were able to enjoy the game of contributing to each other without making moralistic judgments.

I previously wrote a post about this concept and Congress. The point was, to start these conversations with each other, perhaps we need to talk about subjects that we aren’t so emotionally invested in first. We can start to see each other as just people, not good or bad, and start to develop trust in each other. By using the communication strategy developed by Marshall Rosenberg, we can play the game of connection. The goal then becomes actually understanding the other person, rather than trying to change them or defend our position.

Out beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language and even the phrase ‘each other’ do not make sense anymore. Rumi

Top photos: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia (Wikipedia)