On Friday, September 18, 2020, we lost an American legend and a person who taught all of us some very important lessons. The person we lost was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg at the age of 87. While the politicians are arguing about who and how her place on the Supreme Court will be filled, let us take sometime to look at her legacy and honor what she has done for the United States. She fought for the rights for many people and groups who were discriminated against due to the law. She truly worked and devoted her life to make our Country “a more perfect Union.” Additionally, she is and excellent role model for teenagers. Yes she is a role model for teenage girls, but she is also an excellent role model for teenage boys too. Let’s take a moment to look at the lessons she taught teenagers and how teenagers can use the lessons she provided.
Justice Bader Ginsberg personally faced discrimination and negative stereotypes and she learned first hand how they were unfair to the person but also how the stereotypes and discrimination hurt our nation too. Justice Bader Ginsberg had three strikes against her. She was a woman, she was Jewish and she was a mother. Here are two examples of the discrimination and negative stereotypes she faced during her life. She lived in Nebraska with her husband and she was working for the United States Social Security office in Nebraska. When she had her first child she was demoted and received a pay cut because women with children should not be working. Another example is after she was accepted to Harvard University. A professor called her aside and asked her to justify why she should be at Harvard and deny a man from attending Harvard. She did not allow these acts of discrimination to stop her. She understood why she was facing the discrimination and she would not let the discrimination stop her from moving forward with her life and the discrimination did not stop her from fighting against it and other inequalities many people faced.
After Justice Bader Ginsberg finished her law education and she graduated tied for first place at Cornell University, she was unable to get a job at a law firm because she was a woman, Jewish and a mother. Married Jewish women were not supposed to be attorneys. They were suppose to stay at home and raise a family. Again the discrimination would not stop her from fulfilling her life’s dream and her potential. She became an attorney for the ACLU and started to challenge discrimination and prejudice legally. She also had a husband, Marty Ginsberg, who supported her. He was an attorney too, but he believed that his wife had the right to be an attorney too and encouraged her to continue.
She did continue and people started to notice her talent and she started to change barriers. She took on discrimination against women, discrimination against voting rights for minorities and discrimination against people with disabilities. Her talent was recognized by President Carter who appointed her to be a Federal Judge and then President Obama appointed her to the Supreme Court. She over came the fact that she was a woman, Jewish and a mother. She made the world better for herself and for thousands of American citizens.
In addition to all the discrimination she faced, she also faced numerous bouts of being diagnosed with cancer. Many people may have retired after their first diagnosis, but not Justice Bader Ginsberg. She continued to work through chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries. She did not allow cancer to stop her from fighting for people’s rights. If she was not able to make it to the Court, she participated via conference calls from her home and even from her hospital bed. This is a person with a strong drive and who was not going to let anything get in her way of making our Country “a more perfect Union” for everyone regardless of their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.
Now that we of an understanding of what she faced and her work, let’s look at the important lessons she taught teenagers. First, she showed that one person can make significant changes in our world. Also her friendship with Justice Scalia (a strong republican) taught us that you can respect and be kind to people with different opinions from you. In fact, you can even be friends with someone who has different opinions or different background from you. This is very important for teenagers to remember that you can be kind and respect people who are different from you or has different beliefs.
Another very important lesson she taught teenagers is not to let someone else’s prejudice or negative stereotype about you to stop you from fulfilling your dreams or to cause you to doubt yourself. If I had listened to people when I graduated from U.C. Berkely, I would have never earned my doctorate degree. I was told when I graduated from U.C. Berkeley that people with physical and neurological disabilities don’t go on to get advanced degrees. I should just be happy getting a job. I ignored the comments and discrimination I faced a long the way and I earned a Master’s degree and my Doctorate degree. I followed Justice Bander Ginsberg example and followed the faith I had in myself and ignored the stereotypes and discrimination. Girls and other teenagers who are belong to a minority, also need to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. Do not let someone else tell you what you can achieve in your life based on their prejudices or stereotypes they hold. Follow the belief you have in yourself and pursue your dreams.
Another lesson Justice Bader Ginsberg taught teenagers is you have an obligation to speak out against injustices and to help other people by helping to eliminate discrimination and negative stereotypes. As our Constitution states, “all men are created equally.” If that statement is going to mean anything then everyone regardless of ethnicity, financial class, gender or religious beliefs need to have the same opportunities as white Americans. Therefore, supporting groups such as Black Lives Matter and other groups addressing the systemic discrimination in our Country is our responsibility. Justice Bader Ginsberg’s life was dedicated to eliminating systemic discrimination and racism. This is why her last request was her successor be named by the winner of the Presidential Election on November 3rd. We can help ensure that the intent of her last wish will be carried out if teenagers speak up and demand that any systemic discrimination or racism they observe is changed.
Justice Bader Ginsberg lived her life showing us that no one has the right to define us as a person and in the United States we are all equal and deserve to be treated equally with kindness and respect. I hear many teenagers telling me they feel the same way when I see them for therapy. Therefore, we can honor this amazing lady by encouraging our teenagers not to allow stereotypes and racism to define them as people. Furthermore, we can honor this amazing lady by encouraging our teenagers to speak up and fight against racism and discrimination they see in our society. Remember Justice Bader Ginsberg’s belief that everyone in the United States deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, financial class or disability status.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.