I wish to pay tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsberg as I did to John Lewis in August. They were outstanding individuals whether measured by the independence of their agency, the morality of their personage or the entrepreneurship of their biography. In common, they had strong feelings of love, respect, and duty toward the freedom or autonomy offered to each of us by this country’s cultural matrix, grounded as it is in its founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They approached living with a degree of honor, courage and perseverance as few do, and they deserve our acknowledgement.
Likely to live on as important historical figures, both Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Lewis took a stand for inclusion. They weren’t revolutionaries. They were patriots who stood for this country’s political, economic and social institutions, its arts and sciences and the enforcement of our nation’s laws, conventions, and customs, and they declared that each of us must be extended these rights and opportunities along with their attendant responsibilities.
RBG and John Lewis shared something else. They were honored for their patriotism on the cover of Time magazine, he on its August 3rd issue and she on its October 5th issue. As expressed by virtually every other printed or digital news site, they earned this country’s gratitude for their principles, character and leadership, and if you will, by their virtues, integrity, backbone, grit, steadfastness, and guidance.
I similarly expressed my gratitude to those who have an honorable approach to life when I said of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a previous post* that he was an individual committed to an upright and laudable cause directed toward a just and proper end, a cause enacted in word and deed in support of equal opportunity.
None of us is unaware of societal expectations, whether large or small. Like it or not, parents are to protect their children, officials of our institutions are to act fairly, companies are to be responsible to their stockholders, legislators to their electors and good citizens to vote. And there’s more. We’re also expected to be courteous, to lend a hand, and to honor the terms of a contract.
Our due diligence to these social expectations may fall by the wayside when we’re preoccupied, frustrated, disappointed or angry. But John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Martin Luther King, Jr., were models of commitment—always aware of their responsibilities—chief among them, pulling their weight, and then some—in service of the American experiment in a society of autonomous subjects.
From my point of view, we pay tribute to John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsberg when we realize what it was that we could count on from them. They, like us, were not born humane, cultured and autonomously responsible. Indeed, all of us are born with uncivilized natural instincts and must be educated to understand our civil and rational duties and possibilities. Every day, we must wrest control from these programmed biological urges in order to individuate our freedom—that is, to be our own person and live a life worth living inclusive of all of us.
In short, critical to our honorable autonomy is the ability to reset our own determination (how we’re already set in our ways) in the event of a warranted call for such patriotism. Given the entropy of the national experiment in democracy, we can certainly see now how important it is for each of us to answer this call.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg lived to the end with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals. As we follow her lead and live the lessons of Autonomy and Life, we find ourselves with a noble sense of purpose, an uncommon ability to manage our own obligations and to contribute to the lives of others. To my mind, it is every day that we should appreciate and respect all those who, famous or not, choose the honorable approach to life.
* An honorable approach to life