Fate whispers to the warrior, “You can not withstand the storm.”
The warrior whispers back, “I am the storm.”
To call life the storm would be tempting but not quite right. It is the world that is the storm; the thing we struggle to navigate; the situations and environments that try us, and break us, and often bring us to our knees. The storm is everything that surrounds us, pounding relentlessly against our bodies and minds. It is tension at its best, and death at its worst. It is both giver and taker, and either exhilarating or devastating, or both. It is made of loss, betrayal, and unfair choices.
To endure it all is to face those choices.
How we weather the storm depends on many things: the choices we make (unfair or otherwise); how we respond with our backs against the wall, or our faces pressed to the ground; and where we stand when it really counts.
When does it really count? That’s a choice in itself, for each of us to make on our own. (What counts is a matter of perspective, I suppose.) Some would say that it only really counts when our life is on the line, or when we must learn to stand on our own two feet. But others would say that it only really counts when someone else’s life is on the line—when we are able to see that we are not alone in the storm, and that the ability of others to weather this world depends on our actions as well as their own. And the hardest choice in life may be the sacrifice of oneself for the betterment of others. This may be the noblest of choices, too, for it’s where our humanity lies.
It is the eye of the storm, this thing we call humanity—an offering of aid to those seeking solace.
Throughout history, there have been many among us who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of others—those who have fought for something that extends beyond their own place and time. And like warriors, they have used their agency for the benefit of their fellow people, engaging in a degree of self-sacrifice (however incomplete or imperfect) that is unknown to many.
Some of us are warriors in the storm.
The recent death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg—an event met with both sadness and despair—got me thinking about what it means to be a warrior in today’s world. As a civil rights lawyer, Ginsburg dedicated her career to dismantling sex-based discrimination under the law. She believed in taking small steps that would serve as precedent for future legal victories, slowly chipping away at inequality one case at a time. And chipped away she did, advancing gender equality in ways that few other lawyers in history would. She was a warrior in her own right, at a time when the world needed such a warrior. And millions would ultimately benefit from her decades of dedication to the defence and promotion of women’s rights and freedoms.
The hard realization is that no warrior is without their faults and limitations. As a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg was at times more tempered in her decisions and dissents—she was not always the radical liberal that her pop-culture following wanted her to be (though I have found this criticism to be problematic given the relative nature of the word “radical”). On issues of criminal justice, for instance, her voting was disappointingly right-leaning. And in a 2016 interview, her remarks about Colin Kaepernick and the NFL protests against racial violence were clearly short-sighted. (On the latter point, however, she went on to issue a formal apology, stating that her comments were “inappropriately dismissive and harsh.”) Regardless of such criticisms, Ginsburg remained a staunch defender of gender equality throughout her career (and to the bitter end), a fact supported by numerous decisions and dissents in her time as Supreme Court Justice.
But it begs the question: Does being a warrior in this world require one to be perfect? I don’t think so. (We are all human, after all.) This is not to say that we should not have our limits (we should!), but was Ginsburg’s commitment to equality—or the real impact it had—any less valuable because she was more moderate on some issues than we would have liked? Should a lifetime of legal reform in the name of equality be dismissed by a single insensitive remark? If the measure of a true warrior is perfection, then no true warrior has ever existed. But if the measure of a warrior is the entire sum of one’s actions (which should arguably include one’s ability to apologize for their mistakes), Ginsburg was indeed a warrior.
That a warrior (social or otherwise) is fallible only makes their fight more real. It only makes them more relatable. But the court of public opinion is a slippery slope, paved with quick judgments, inevitable hypocrisies, and the tendency to ignore important contextual factors. (Does the average person know what it’s like to serve on the Supreme Court, for instance? Or what it’s like to dedicate one’s life to legal reform—or the personal sacrifices involved in such dedication?) It is impossible to get anything “right” in everyone’s eyes (a lesson I’ve learned time and again as a university instructor), which is why we need the kind of objectivity and reason that defined Ginsburg’s approach to social reform. (And it is why the “court” of public opinion is not a real court at all.)
It is not easy to find calm in this storm. As I grow older, I realize that this world has more villains and thieves than it has warriors and heroes. This is a difficult storm to withstand, especially of late. But what is our state should we expect perfection from those we admire? What is our condition if the best among us cannot be forgiven? Where is our humanity for those who are actually affecting change?
Should we extend our humanity a reasonable distance, I would argue that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not just a warrior, but a storm in her own right. A lifetime of fighting—a lifetime of real change—stands evenly against the contributions of a thousand people. And Ginsburg fought with dignity and tenacity, every step of the way. She was a powerhouse. Should any one of us be so effective as to change a single law or cultural norm in our lifetime, we would hardly begin to grasp her impact. Perhaps it is only in understanding the storm itself that one may understand the fallibility of the warrior within it. Perhaps it is in the storm, with eyes and hearts open, that we may see the heroes for the people they really are.
We are all faced with unfair choices in life. No choice we make is perfect. It is only in the sum of our actions, and perhaps mainly in those actions that seek to improve the lives of others, that a warrior may be found. In the fight for justice of any kind, we must not lose our humanity for those fighting the fight. And we would be wise to consider what it means to be a warrior in this world…
Because we cannot withstand the storm alone.
“If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself, something to repair tears in your community, something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for one’s self but for one’s community.”
—Ruth Bader Ginsburg
For more on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s varied cases, decisions, and dissents, I recommend reading this New York Times article (click here), which offers a little more perspective on some of her common criticisms.