Judging and Being Judged

The conventional new age spiritual wisdom is that judging is doing us no good at all. The more we judge others, the more likely we are to fear they are judging us. Competition is also suspect from a spiritual perspective. Judging is what gods do to us, and too often what we undertake to do on behalf of those gods when we don’t find them actively judgmental enough. So here I am, having judged and been judged. In both cases it related to short stories. On Saturday the 24th April 2016, we gather in Stroud for the readings of ten stories picked from nearly a hundred. For the second time, I’ve been one of the judges. I also just shortlisted for Evesham Short Stories.

It’s a very exposing thing, putting yourself forward to be judged. Creativity tends to feel really personal, and people can get hurt when their work isn’t chosen. It takes courage to come back year on year and try again – which many people do. For those who win, being judged is a massive boost, a validation and an encouragement. For those who don’t win it can be an equally big emotional setback.

Whether we want it or not, everything we do is judged. Is it adequate? Is it pleasing? From how we present our bodies to the world through every detail of what we do in those bodies, we are subject to other people’s judgements. Everything we test by doing it can lead to the discovery that we weren’t as good as we thought we were.

For creative people, every comment and review, every sale or nonsale is a reflection of the work, usually. We live dependant on the judgement of others, cut to shreds by the one negative remark even if it was a drop in an ocean of compliments.

For me, this whole business of contest and judgement can be approached as a more spiritual and philosophical issue. If I enter something, I have to be ok with the idea of not winning. I have to recognise that I might not win, and not pin my whole sense of self to the process. If I win, I have to keep it in perspective and while I will certainly feel delight or dismay, I try not to be too overwhelmed either way.

In the judging, of course I too will be judged. There’s every scope for authors who did not win to decide the problem was really my poor judgement. That I was too stupid and inexperienced to see the absolute genius of their story.

I’m sceptical about the idea that non-judgement is always the best thing. The act of selection gives us an evening of very fine stories. I’m perfectly happy with open mic sessions for all kinds of things, where people bring what they’ve got, but if you aren’t allowed to select, that’s all you can ever have. While judgement may not always be fair, and often has an arbitrary element (choosing ten good stories, when the 11th was also superb) it creates the space for celebrating what’s good and encouraging it. It’s not a perfect system, no system is.

Many of us are deeply motivated to strive for excellence; competitive spaces are a great asset for this. Many of us are not competitive and need safe places to explore and express ourselves. There has to be room for both, and I think in practice most people would benefit from doing both. We have to be able to lose, and we have to be easy with being one good bard amongst many. The person who declines to compete may just be persuading themselves that they’d have won everything, and that approach does a person no good at all.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “Judging and Being Judged

  • Sheila North

    I’ve long thought that the Christian saying, “Judge not, that you be not judged” was bloody good advice, including for Pagan me. However, I see that as being about how we interact with each other, and not about competitions. If we put ourselves forward for judgement – whether creative, athletic, whatever – then that should be with the understanding that we *will* be judged.

    Of course, sometimes the judgement can appear faulty in retrospect, witness the contemporary reactions to Van Gogh’s paintings, EMI’s famous rejection of the Beatles, etc.

    I do hope the 11th best short story writer was given positive feedback, because sometimes not winning comes down to be up against a particularly fine set of competitors.

    Long winded reply, or what? Congratulations again for winning, and all the best to everyone for a fine night of story telling on the 24th!

    • Kaylee

      That’s how I see it too. At the very least, we shouldn’t be quick to judge. We can’t see things through another’s eyes nor see what is in their minds. How that person made it here and what influenced their decisions are mostly opaque to us. Given all of that, can we really judge another?

      • Nimue Brown

        And the difference between judging an action adequate, not adequate etc and making a judgement about a person based on their action. The difference between ‘this pie is not cooked’ and ‘you are a bad parent’ – over the same pie.

  • whiterabbitanimation

    You know, some of the most supportive and fun places I’ve hung out in have been competitions – whether I’ve entered and won or lost or not been selected at all! Agreed, it is possible to celebrate works as these meet specific criteria or just as they are, on their own merits. I don’t feel personally there is anything essentially ‘wrong’ with either context, but rather how ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ are worked with…

    “Whichever of the two occur, be patient.” – if you win, be patient, it will pass. If you lose, be patient, it will pass also! 😀

    A fundamental mantra for me… “The obstacles are the path”. For me, this is the idea that growth comes from relating to and developing from the ‘mistakes’, more so than the ‘successes’.

  • Ryan C.

    ” If I enter something, I have to be ok with the idea of not winning. I have to recognise that I might not win, and not pin my whole sense of self to the process”.

    I needed to hear that right now, being in the middle of the job-application rollercoaster and all.

  • alainafae

    I think judgment is tightly interwoven with expectations. In the scenario of a competition, the expectations are usually made clear to and agreed upon by everyone involved, whereas the expectations that individuals have of others in everyday situations typically are neither clear nor agreed upon. A lot of times we don’t even stop to consider that we have deeply-entrenched expectations of ourselves, let alone how they might be driving our self-judgment. Even if from an outside observer’s perspective it was obvious how a person creeping up behind us and lightly jabbing us in the ribs should not warrant falling out off our stool and yelling “OW!”, it certainly does to us in that the jarring reaction is as much about the surprise as it is the physical impact. So too with hidden expectation. A reaction may seem out of proportion to the judgment (such as to quit writing altogether because they were the 11th-best story and only 10 are selected) to an outside observer where all expectations are ‘obvious’, but the emotional charge from hidden expectations, whether their personal expectations or external expectations not clearly understood, definitely makes a difference to how that person reacts. Approaching it as a “more spiritual or philosophical issue” beforehand, like you said, can help bring expectations into clearer focus and mitigate the damage of potential extreme reactions. Don Miguel Ruiz would call them ‘agreements’ that we make with ourselves. Thank you for sharing your perspective and stirring this line of inquiry for me 🙂 Like another commenter said, I probably really needed to read this myself.

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