Ironically, this is one of my favorite and least favorite words, all depending on how it is used. When defined as “guided by truth, reason, and fairness,” it’s one of my favorite words. Injustice is one of my biggest pet peeves, so in this sense, I love the word just. Personally and professionally, I strive to create environments that are just. But when the word is defined as “only or merely” and precedes something important, the word rubs me the wrong way.
Let me explain. Too often I hear the word just used to excuse poor behavior choices. For example:
“But I did my homework. I just forgot to show my work.”
“I didn’t hit him. I just pushed him.”
“I was just kidding when I said that to her.”
“I got the right numbers. I just put the decimal point in the wrong place.”
When used in this way, the word just is intended to minimize the importance or significance of whatever follows the word in the sentence.
“I just forgot to show my work.” This implies that showing work isn’t important, despite the fact that it was a requirement of the teacher.
“I just pushed him.” This sends the message that pushing another student is an acceptable form of behavior.
“I was just kidding when I said that to her.” So being unkind and disrespectful to a classmate is okay because you said, after the fact, it was simply a joke?
“I got the right numbers. I just put the decimal point in the wrong place.” The answer is still wrong. Close doesn’t count.
In addition to academics, I’m a firm believer that educators must teach students to be responsible, and not only for things like remembering to complete their homework every day. Students must learn to take responsibility for all of their behavior choices. Allowing them to excuse inappropriate behavior with the word just is not doing them any favors, because the real world doesn’t work like that.
Suppose a banker tells his supervisor, “I entered all the right digits into the computer. I just put the decimal point in the wrong place.” The supervisor’s probable response? “You’re just fired.”