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.