26 June 2007

REPOST 12/23/2006 Responsible judging...

I've never thought of myself as particulary easy to throw in a judging situation. I know the rules, and I follow them, whether they mean disregarding something that bothers me, if the rules tell me to, or disaqualifying someone for breaking the rules. Even if I don't care for a genre, I can judge a piece on its own merits and not on personal feelings about either the content or the tone...I thought.

That last one has come back to plague me...not in the EPPIE, where I have a lot of control over what genres and content I judge, but in another contest I was judging for. There comes a time when a judge is so offended by the content of a piece, allowed by the rules or not, that the only appropriate thing to do is to remove yourself as judge of that one piece.

I'd always thought I could judge anything, but some writing is so full of hate, leveled so purposefully at a single group of people...and unfairly, in my opinion, that it becomes unpalatable.

Now, had the guidelines for the contest asked if I could empathize or otherwise appreciate the mindset of the piece, whether I agreed or not (how I TRY to judge pieces I don't personally agree with), I would have been free to say that I found it repulsive and that it was beyond my capacity to appreciate that some people live in such a state, hating others so vehemently. I would take off the points for it and be done with the judging.

That wasn't the case, and I found myself in a position where I would have to final a technically- competent piece of writing that went against every shred of morality I possess. At the point where I questioned whether I could give the piece high points for the technical aspects of the writing, as I usually would, and swallow down the bile at seeing something thus constructed possibly final, at knowing I had a hand in scoring it in a position to final...or marking down for the pure propaganda and alienation of others contained in it, though the question isn't whether I AGREE but whether what was stated was stated in a competent manner...

You know, I competed in a poetry contest once where I lost, because a judge marked down for something she had no right to mark down for. The score was supposed to be based on competence in constructing a period style of poem. I did it, and she admitted that I did it, but she marked me down, because she didn't LIKE the style I chose. That wasn't what the guidelines told her to judge. Whether she liked the style or not, she shouldn't have marked off for it, because it wasn't what she was supposed to judge.

For years, I have wrestled with how wrong I found her actions. For years, I have stewed over it.

I've found myself in this position many times while judging, and I've always managed to swallow it down and judge the competence of the writing alone, disregarding whether I agree with the style chosen (as long as it's flawless) and the message stated. Until now...

This time, I had to take the other route. No, I didn't do what the judge in that long-ago contest did. I did what she SHOULD have done, if she didn't feel equal to judging my poem according to the guidelines she'd been given. I stepped down as a judge on that piece and asked to be replaced.

Was that wrong of me? I hope not. I hope the author would thank me for trying to ensure he got an impartial judging, since I didn't trust myself to give one. I probably COULD have managed it, but then I would have had to live with that decision, if the piece actually finalled. That was something I could not promise to do. So, I stepped down.

I consider this the most professional thing a judge can do when she thinks she cannot render an impartial judging for whatever reason, whether it be personal involvement with the project or personal feelings that cannot be ignored.

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