I try not to fall for clickbait headlines, and I try even harder to avoid Business Insider. But I'm a stupid mortal just like you, so when I see "Google and Apple Alum Says Using This One Word Can Damage Your Credibility!" then dammit, I'm a-gonna click.
**SAVED YOU A CLICK: Don't Use The Word "Just."**
Ah, yes. The word "just." As in "I'm just checking in with you to..." and "I'm just wondering if..." and other things that I've used in emails in the last two weeks. Mainly because I'm genuinely sorry to be sending the person an email. But still. It casts a wishy-washy pall, I agree.
But my point. The word "just." I've been wishing this goddamned word would die for a decade.
One of the things I have done for a long time teaching art at universities is come up with quite difficult assignments for the students to force them out of their comfort zones and make them stretch to create something resonant and maybe unexpected. One animation assignment from years ago began: "make a 1-2 minute video, edited in the camera, that tells the story of one of your scars..."
Once students figure out that I'm probably not insane, most realize that I'm trying to introduce a constraint to focus their attention and craft in an unpredictable dimension to help free them to create something in an unpredictable way. Then in the future they can build their own constraints to create new focus points when they need or want to. That's the idea, at least.
Here is the part where you'd expect a professor to lament about "students today" and "millennials, *sigh*" or some nonsense like that. I don't buy that.
There is a flavor of student (more now than in memory) that does not see this as a challenge prompt, but as a sort of puzzle to solve in order to win their grade. Maybe they think I'm trying to trick them to shift the grade curve down. But their questions are the same.
"So, do I just [do this]?"
"Is it ok if I just [fulfill the perceived minimum of the assignment]?"
"Are we supposed to just [point a camera at bellybutton]?"
I get it. They have been educated in a landscape of dead-eyed rubrics, looking for the target they must hit to get the grade they desire. Thus is the world of educational accountability. What else is there to do but leap for the fish. But my response baffles them: "you're not supposed to 'just' do anything,"
Someday I'll say. "I want to you try to do like Diaghilev wanted Cocteau to do. I want you to try to astonish me. Étonne-moi!"