A Lesson Learned from Justice Scalia

Following the sudden and unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the media found a variety of angles to dissect and explore.  But the storyline I found most fascinating was related to his relationship with fellow Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

By all accounts, Scalia and Ginsberg were “best buddies,” yet they could not have been more diametrically opposed with regard to how they each interpreted the law. Further, it’s not like their differences were private or spoken about in hushed tones. After all, Justice Scalia was known to be blunt and outspoken with those who he believed misinterpreted the law. His candid and sometime brusque opinions were not kept behind closed doors in the private chamber of the Court. Instead he was known to speak his mind directly and publicly during court proceedings as well as in his written opinions, seemingly holding back nothing when he felt other justices were wrong.

Not only were Scalia and Ginsberg close, but many colleagues, media members, politicians, etc., who were more often than not opposed to the opinions of Antonin Scalia, have also expressed extraordinarily fond sentiments for Justice Scalia.

You may be thinking that of course everyone will speak kindly about a person who just passed away, but unfortunately, that is not the climate in our politically and ideologically divided country.  Also, not only have I have sensed respect for Justice Scalia in his passing, but also a palpable heartfelt admiration by those who usually vehemently opposed him.

The obvious question is: Why does someone with a lifetime of strongly expressed opinions elicit such admiration and genuine fondness on the part of his political and ideological adversaries? 

I believe the answer to this question lies in how Justice Scalia related to others.  Sure, by all accounts he has been described as gregarious, funny, a person who loved life and was fun to be around. But these characteristics are not enough for most people to overlook philosophical and ideological differences.  I didn’t know Justice Scalia personally, but I was able to piece together an answer from what I have heard others say about him: 

There are a number of ways Justice Scalia engaged with people who opposed his beliefs:

1.     He respected their intellect.

2.     He gave them the benefit of the doubt that their opinions were well intentioned.

3.     He made an effort to sincerely listen to and discuss their opinions.

These three simple but powerful relationship precepts can create a compelling change across the relationships of the person who employs them.  Think about how practicing these principles at work with people who see situations differently than you could impact your workplace.  Or imagine perfecting these approaches in strained family relationships. 

By no means do these precepts require you to change your opinion or “give in.”  And they may not change the minds of others.  But even if no one’s positions are changed, the end result is that relationships will improve.  As Christians, improving relationships is exactly what we are commanded to do. 

Rest in peace Justice Scalia.  According to the commandment, “Love one another,” yours appears to have been a life well lived.