The Injustice of “Just”

After receiving an article on communication and voice from my creative collaborator Amy Burvall (http://www.upworthy.com/3-things-women-say-that-weaken-the-power-of-their-words?c=ufb1), I unearthed this journal piece I had written in November 2015 (a NaNoWriMo related activity, no doubt)… back then, it didn’t seem to have its place — or, perhaps, I didn’t give it proper time to shine.

I’m learning that *any time* can be a great time to jot, to muse, and to share with an audience, who just might find it worthwhile… “The Injustice of Just”:

I used to catch myself using the word “just” a little too much. It happened quite easily in emails, especially ones that involved a bit of discomfort or confrontation. Being direct is a demanding challenge — and, if I seemed to find a better way to convey something delicate, I always credited my diplomatic int’l background, or my command of the English language, telling myself that it’s an asset to have so many phrasings and words at my disposal. After all, a vast and diverse lexicon has to be a boon, right?

Nope, I found it was actually all gross justification, call it rationalization, for avoidance techniques. “I’m just wondering if we could make time to talk about it this weekend” could actually mean “I want to talk about this; it’s important to me to discuss it.”

A search through recent emails for the keyword “just” yielded the following lines and contexts; (just) imagine how the tone would change if “just” were eliminated:

- Advertising a writing workshop retreat: “If you or someone you know might want to take part, just let me know.”

- Requesting a full-length video of a recent presentation about mindfulness: “… just more incentive for this video including the full speech.”

- To a friend asking for my help with promoting international hashtag day:

“Just to let you know, in case you really want hashtag day to have a worldwide following…”

- Connecting after a date: “Just wanted to say hi.”

What’s the trouble with “just”? The deepest problem, not only that it’s an irksome word to begin with, fraught with its own insecurity, is that it diminishes the force of what’s being shared. It dilutes the sentence itself, and the meaning behind it. It couches real emotion behind a shroud of small-ness. And, words connote feelings, and feelings aren’t usually quite that small.

The word “just” is attractive to me and many others, perhaps, because it offers us an excuse to be softer than we actually are. The danger is that it actually weakens us, and causes others to then perceive us as weak, wishy-washy pushovers who whisper our thoughts and feelings instead of shouting them from the rooftops. I used to tell my students each time they began a public-speaking exercise: “Please exaggerate. Better to be over than under.”

So, why do I just have a problem letting go of the word? And, why is it just so attractive to so many? Just check yourself — how many times have you peppered your phrasings with a little “just”, and were you using it just like a “spoonful of sugar”, to help the medicine go down?

Of course, it’s not all harmful. “Just”, in its most innocuous form, can mean proximity in time, as in, “I arrived at the concert just as the music started playing” or “She started to have the baby just a few hours ago.” It can actually increase the energy in these cases, making everything far more synchronous and close-to-the-action. Could there ever be harm in just adding a few extra “justs” into modern communication? Where’s the injustice, if I justify it this way?

The problem with “just”, in my opinion, is not when it’s used with time, but rather when it’s used as a form of “only”, as in the earlier examples from my email communications. If just is used as a form of only, it lessens the importance of what’s being said, modifying the tone in a way that I believe is detrimental to the strength of the statement. “I’m just trying to explain…” becomes chatty and self-excusing, rather than strong. Definitive statements morph into self-doubting pontifications; announcements transform to postulates.

If speech and written communication reflect our own self-beliefs, soon, the solid foundation of our own esteem could crumble into limiting thoughts, when we conform to expressing ourselves in this way. Do we raise our hands, to be given permission to speak? What will happen to us, if we allow our communication to erode into quiet mutterings, stifling our own voices before they even have a chance to be heard by others?

Simply stated: Why should others listen to what we have to say, if we seem not to value it ourselves?

This is the danger of the word “just” — it does not respect the weight of the words that surround it.

Perhaps, I’ve taken it just a little too far, by giving it so much attention. Still, as I say, better hyperbole than understatement. There just might be a grain of truth in this; that’s what makes it just.