‘Should’ and ‘Just’

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May 14, 2018 by lucieromarin

Counsellors listen for the word ‘should.’ As soon as the client says, “… I know I should be saving more,” or “…but I should be more forgiving of him,” or “…I should have done more with my education,” you know you’re hearing the voice of a third party. No one is born thinking these or any other ‘shoulds’. A ‘should’ is a learned value. It isn’t necessarily bad, but once you know where it’s come from, you’ll understand your client’s mental universe and inner life a lot better. You may even be given an insight into how she came to be damaged or why it’s so difficult for her to heal. This is not so you can tell the person laden with ‘shoulds’ what she really should be thinking; for a start, you don’t want to mirror the behaviour that might have driven her to counselling in the first place. Also, it’s annoying. But you do want your client to become more aware of her own habits of mind, and, eventually, to decide for herself how many of those ‘shoulds’ are really hers.

Once I learned to listen out for third-party words, I started to hear the word ‘just.’ “He’s just using that as an excuse to stop going to Mass.” “You just think a foetus is human because you want a baby.” “People just need to forgive and move on.” “People just need to be loyal to the Church.” “Islamic terrorists are just men who haven’t passed through their adolescent phase,” (yes, I was really told that, by a self-proclaimed intellectual.)

The purpose of ‘just’ is to flatten the other person’s situation, to suck out all the nuance out of his thought, and to protect the speaker from change. ‘Just’ is the equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and saying, “la-la-la-la-la-la!” If my belief in the humanity of the unborn child is just baby-hunger, then my interlocutor can evade science, the testimonies of other women, and the testimonies of abortionists. Most of all, she can avoid any examination of her own fear of the natural consequences of her sexual activity outside marriage. So she doesn’t have to change. If the survivors of clergy malpractice just need to forgive and move on, then no one in the Church ever needs to be accountable for anything. More importantly, the conservative Catholic who utters this just is spared any need to ask herself why it was not a heretical priest but a conservative priest who got so addicted to power and why his enablers were not modernists, but conservatives. Just spares her any examination of her culture. So she doesn’t have to change by asking it to change.

We can’t help using these words. (I myself am the queen of reducing my enemy to ‘just’ and will defend my eradicatory description every time I do so.) They words are, nonetheless, the first white pebbles in a trail that will, if followed, lead us through a forest to their origins. The first thing to do is get out of that Gingerbread House.

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