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Gaetano Gandolfi: Allegory of Justice (1760s)
" … present and damned well worth counting."

The word occasionally appears within the normal flow of conversation and to my ear, suspends the show for a moment. Back in the days when I could still eat in restaurants, I might show up at a hostess stand seeking a table, and be greeted with one of the most discouraging words in the language. "Is it just you, then?" No, I'd reply, it's not just me, it's ME in all my glory! "Just" just sounds so disappointed! Sorry to ruin your day. It's just me today.

We each engage as judge and jury over our proceedings, passing judgements over what we encounter.
Some judgements come out more explicitly than others. These seem to cause no real ruckus. They appear more as simple opinion than decisive verdict. Nobody's hanged as a result. Others seem more implicit, and seem to almost silently indict and convict, usually unwittingly, almost sarcastically, like a sardonic "Nice hat," intended to express precisely the opposite. "Just" most often works like this, perhaps even expressing an inner judgement without its owner ever noticing what they're disclosing. When someone points a 'just' in my direction, though, I notice and often comment on it. I make a little joke, but one intended to express my disgust at how my counterpart just used it. If not to discount my presence, they probably discounted their own, a no less disturbing usage. I sense that I really should at least mention it, lest it slip by almost unnoticed but not necessarily without inflicting damage.

I believe that such words never slip by completely unnoticed, though they're rarely mentioned. Few seem as compelled as I to mention their presence. I hope, perhaps naively, that my mere mentioning might elevate their influence such that it reduces their impact. The hostess who unintentionally dissed me with her unwitting 'just' greeting, had very likely never noticed her insult until I make some fun of it. Such terms carry a silent but deadly influence which can utterly poison our language, conversations, and relations. The "just-ice" might not notice that they're passing judgement, but the accused can sense something amiss, if not always able to determine what that something is. They're being talked down to without, perhaps, consciously noticing. The experience might well be wounding, however, even if the source and intent don't consciously register. Subtexts matter, too, and sometimes exert the greater influence. I try to notice and mention the anomaly. It's not otherwise a just world.

I probably do my greatest damage unaware that I'm inflicting it. A child reared under a deeply discounting denotation might not quite thrive as a result. Neither might an adult or even a kid in a big person body. One recognized as
just showing up might get the impression that they're nothing terribly special when their presence is unavoidably, at least potentially, actually a remarkable gift. We should feel enormously blessed to be in their presence, not attempting to downplay their importance. We're not Just Visiting here and this is not simply a prison or an asylum, though one sometimes wonders. As judge, jury, defense, prosecution, and bailiff of these proceedings, we might choose to be a tad more sensitive and more forgiving. This world might become a better place if we were each more sensitive to our own subtle influences, or so I believe, so I call out the justs when I hear them. When I notice someone referring to them self as 'just', I mention what I heard. When a well-meaning welcoming hostess dishes up an unintended slap, I make a little joke about it so that she might more consciously engage with her next customer. We're each something special, unworthy of even subtle derision. None of us are 'just' present, but present and damned well worth counting.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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