When the news hit that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away at 87, my mind shifted gradually to my girls. They are 6 and 2, bright-eyed and optimistic, knowing nothing of the inequalities Ginsburg fought for decades to fix. Little do they know their lives have been made immeasurably better by her life’s work. And her loss is not just one for girls—it’s for boys too.
After all, in her storied career, Ginsburg proved to be not only a tireless warrior for women’s rights but an advocate for all genders to live as they please. “The law should not pigeonhole people,” she said. “… Men and women should be able to do whatever [their] talents made right for that person.”
Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman to serve on the Supreme Court, was a trailblazer, a fighter, and a feminist icon. She leaves behind a legacy of searing dissents, a history of service to others, and some pretty insightful rules for living.
Here’s what I’m hoping my children can learn from the life and work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
1. Strength Has Nothing to Do With Size
Barely topping 5 ft. tall, Ginsburg was small in stature. Her strength lied, not in her physicality (though she kept a personal trainer until the end), but in the way in which she harnessed her voice for good. She was a relentless fighter—tenacious, whip-smart, and strategic in her methods—working case-by-case to chip away at the giant issue of gender discrimination. Her strength and resolve over the course of decades pushed the needle toward equality between the sexes. She was living proof that small can be mighty.
Why it matters: Can you imagine how powerless little kids must feel each day? Almost on autopilot, we shuttle them from Point A to Point B, choosing everything for them from their clothing to their breakfast. Ginsburg’s example shows kids that even the smallest among us can have big, powerful voices that can change the world.
2. Find Your Cheerleaders
In a letter Ginsburg’s husband, Marty, penned on his deathbed, he wrote to her, “You are the only person I have loved in my life … And I have admired and loved you since the day we first met at Cornell some 56 years ago. What a treat it has been to watch you progress to the very top of the legal world …”
Throughout their marriage, Marty supported and encouraged Ginsburg in her career—at times setting aside his own ambitions to make room for those of his wife. The pair were united in defying the stereotypical gender roles associated with the times, and there is no doubt that Ginsburg used her experiences at home to balance the scales for women across the country. Later, when Ginsburg was in line for a seat on the Supreme Court, it was her husband, calling on his network, who helped her ascend to the role.
Why it matters: No one achieves their dreams on their own. We all need support and someone there to cheer us on, and who doesn’t want their kids to grow up seeking out good, reliable friends to nudge them in the right direction?
3. Stand In Your Truth (Even If You Stand Alone)
As a liberal justice on a majority conservative court, Ginsburg was often a voice for dissent. “She was deeply unafraid to name the many problems with the decisions coming out of the majority, and to do it in a way that put the lives of regular people forward,” Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center said in The New York Times.
Why it matters: If there is any lesson we pass on to our kids from Ginsburg, let it be this one: she had conviction and boldly stood for what she felt in her heart was right. We all want to raise the kid who eschews the wrong crowd or stands up for the bullied. That would be the Ginsburg influence.
4. Practice Resilience
While the Ginsburgs studied together at Harvard Law, Marty was diagnosed with cancer. During his treatment, Ginsburg picked up his slack by typing his notes, attending her own classes, and caring for their young daughter at home. After graduation and despite a glowing recommendation, she couldn’t secure a job at a law firm because, in her view, she had three strikes against her: she was Jewish, a woman, and a mother. Later, in her tenure on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg suffered multiple bouts of cancer and yet was often back on the job shortly after treatment. All this to say that Ginsburg never had an easy road, and yet she persisted.
Why it matters: Our kids can take a note from Ginsburg and use inevitable hardships to light their fires in pursuit of their dreams. Ginsburg never gave up, and that’s something we can all find inspiration in.
5. Choose Your Battles
“When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade,” Ginsburg said in The New York Times when asked for advice she lives by. While these words of wisdom were bestowed upon her in the context of marriage, Ginsburg admitted she applied the lesson all throughout her life and even on the Supreme Court.
Why it matters: Just think what a gift it would be to save your kids the trouble of getting invested in every disagreement that comes their way. What could they become with all of that freed-up time, focus, and energy—the next RBG, perhaps?
6. Care for Others
As a Jewish woman staking her claim during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Ginsburg was no stranger to discrimination. Her experiences fueled her fight and, in turn, showed us the value of living in service to others. She once said, “That’s what I think a meaningful life is: living not for oneself, but for one’s community.”
Why it matters: We all want to raise kind kids who lead with their hearts and stand up for others. Ginsburg led by example, showing us that even people in power (or maybe, especially people in power) have a responsibility to look out for the good of others. The dictum her memory now issues is a simple one: use what you have to make the world a better, more just place for everyone.