A few years ago, wandering a bookstore, the book “Notorious RBG” by Irin Carmon and Shama Knizhnik caught my eye. The title was a play on rapper The Notorious B.I.G. However, one could have mistaken the steely-eyed woman on the cover for the Queen of England.
As I soon learned, it was the face of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At first glance, RBG is an unlikely candidate for celebrity. Nevertheless, it was her status as a cultural icon that enabled her to enter the lives of people like me. She fought for a better world with resiliency, kindness and devotion.
In the words of “RBG” documentary-maker Betsy West, “She changed the law of the land for American women, making sure the U.S. Constitution applied to men and women equally. That’s a tremendous legacy.”
Here are four ways to live your best life of dissent, as demonstrated by RBG:
1. Embrace adventure: While her children teased her for her solemnity, RBG had an adventurous spirit. She went horseback riding, parasailing, waterskiing and whitewater rafting. She bonded with Justice Antonin Scalia over their passion for opera. RBG took the stage in a 2016 Washington opera production, fulfilling a childhood dream of being an opera singer. Ginsburg once remarked: “I tend to be consumed by my work. … I’m thinking about it when I go to sleep. … But when I go to the opera, I leave all the briefs on the shelf and just enjoy the great performances.”
2. Hit the gym: Throughout multiple bouts of cancer, broken ribs and a heart stent, RBG maintained bi-weekly workouts for over two decades. Her trainer, an Army Reserve sergeant, nicknamed her TAN, for “Tough As Nails.” Her dedication gained notoriety. She once left a White House dinner early for a training session and lifted weights with Stephen Colbert.
3. Choose your words carefully: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was unafraid of silence. In court, this was an asset; she was willing to pause as long as necessary to form an effective answer to questions. A stickler for grammar, she wrote with succinct clarity and insightfulness. This imbued her dissents with a unique potency. She spoke not only to opposing judges but to the public and future generations. Throughout her career, she adhered to the Constitution and her own moral compass, ignoring calls to conform to the trends of any ideology. RBG believed in building lasting progress through deliberate and steady increments.
4. Work hard and advocate for yourself: RBG’s incredible work ethic was exemplified by her time as one of nine women in a class of 500 at Harvard Law School. She was among the first women on the Harvard Law Review. Simultaneously, she helped her husband (bedridden with cancer) finish his Harvard Law degree while also raising their 1-year-old daughter. As a Jewish woman, she faced discrimination with tact and courage. Despite being a reserved woman of 5’1”, it was a mistake to underestimate her.
Occupying one of the most powerful positions in the country, RBG’s authenticity and lack of self-importance created a rare aura of accessibility. This brought her admiration and fame, accompanying her judicial success. It seems RBG’s work is not yet done in inspiring younger generations.
• Ella Crowder is a senior at Davis High School.