“Never take anything you learn as final, be prepared to look at it again.”
– J.G. Bennett
A number of years ago, I pinned down a subtle trait of negativistic thinking that affected both myself and people around me. It’s an approach to how you label and transact your experience, but left unchecked, it can do bizarre, damaging things to your outlook.
I called it the negative ‘just’.
The best way to explain it is to give an example.
“The sun is a ball of gas”
“The sun is just a ball of gas”
Do you see the difference? The first statement is one observational facet of many, one part of a greater whole. The second statement uses the negative ‘just’, laying down the final say of what a subject is in a way that evaporates human experience and dismisses the immediate phenomenon. The negative ‘just’ removes all awe and leaves you with a label to be filed under a category. Forgotten.
Now, I’m not about to say that the physical makeup of the sun isn’t gas, but saying it is just gas is reductionist. The sun can also be a source of joy, or hope. A summer sun at noon can be oppressive, and dominate your experience. Is a sunset made of gas? Or a ray of light piercing through storm clouds?
When you use the negative ‘just’ all these other facets are stripped away or placed on a subordinate hierarchy (usually with a subtle suggestion of naiveté) in lieu for a, usually materialistic or empirical, viewpoint.
Now, consider how far this habit of reductionist, dismissive labeling can go.
“It’s just a mountain.”
“It’s just some people dancing.”
“It’s just some chemicals in your brain!”
“It’s just a rock floating in space!”
Almost every aspect of human experience can be compartmentalized in this way. The mystery and richness of being on this planet can become a series of false labels, cleverly hidden behind a presumed knowledge of ‘how the world works.’
Recently, when I was reading Carl Jung, I discovered that he had happened upon this same trait in his patients! One in particular, refusing to confront his emotional turmoil, and saying it was ‘nothing but indigestion!.’ I had to laugh.