Unidos: One Justice’s Insights on Inclusion

I recently had the opportunity to attend an event with Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the featured speaker. The crowd was largely made up of distinguished lawyers, businesspeople, and university officials. But the Justice wasn’t interested in speaking to just them. Her focus was on the small group of students in the audience.

When not working, the Justice admitted, “I spend most of my time talking with kids.” She sees children, as well as students of all ages, as important stewards of our future. Here is a leader who could have talked about her impressive career arc or some recent challenging court decisions. Instead, Justice Sotomayor decided to talk about how we can help others as well as ourselves. The justice acknowledges the many challenges she overcame to become the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the US Supreme Court. She embodies the theme of 2022’s National Hispanic Heritage Month, that inclusivity makes our nation stronger.

Justice Sotomayor is an optimist, yet also a realist. She acknowledged the many ways life isn’t always fair, and how it’s up to everyone to contribute positivity in whatever ways they can. One student asked how the Justice navigates the various personalities and perspectives of her fellow Supreme Court Justices. “I try to find the good in everybody,” was her simple answer. Then she went on to share a characteristic she admires in a person who differs significantly from her in terms of the way he interprets the law. This anecdote showed that, indeed, she does follow her own advice about finding the good in someone she disagrees with.

I have never, ever focused on the negative of things. I always look for the positive.

Sonia Sotomayor

This past winter, Sara wrote a blog post about how helping others enriches our own well-being. Justice Sotomayor recently published her first children’s book, entitled “Just Help,” which reflects a similar approach to service. In her recent talk, the Justice reinforced the importance of helping others by acknowledging that ignoring issues does the opposite of making them go away. She noted, “Little things can become big things.”

Perhaps, the most inspiring bit of wisdom I took away from the Justice’s talk was learning how she ends her day. Each evening, she asks herself these two questions: ‘What did I learn today?’ and ‘Who did I help today?’ Leaving nothing to chance, Justice Sotomayor keeps magazines by her bedside, so that she can learn something each evening prior to turning in. If unable to answer the second question, the Justice does not simply say to herself, ‘Well, tomorrow is another day.’ Instead, she acts. She picks up her phone and calls someone who may need to hear a friendly voice if the hour is not too late. If it is, she dashes off an email so someone who will wake up to the knowledge that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor has been thinking of them. What a way to start the day!

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