William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, USA is credited with saying ‘Inquire often, but judge rarely, and thou wilt not often be mistaken.’ Yet how often do we do the reverse -inquire rarely and judge often. Perhaps it’s more a question of the quality of the judgement. For example, criminal defendants and promise-breakers (some politicians) need to be judged well, fairly and on the facts, if society is to progress.
Making an adverse judgement isn’t necessarily fatal. In fact, it can be a deliberate part of the improvement process. Sports coaches are quick to judge mistakes and provide feedback to the players. In the business of software development, the use of beta testing to reduce a product’s release time is another example. One group of users sit in judgement on the initial release, bugs and all. A much wider group review and judge the final, finished product.
In the entertainment industry, a variety of judgement methods exist. For example, the producers of certain reality TV shows deliberately invite viewers to be the judges and ‘vote off’ the programme people they think are unworthy contestants. An example is the Big Brother series in the UK.
In other UK reality TV shows, such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing, the judges are a combination of appointed experts and the viewing public. Whether this is to contrast judgements on technical merit versus popularity, or to create the potential for greater controversy in the choices made (to boost the show ratings) is difficult to know.
Some TV programmes rely on the presenters’ judgements alone. These include competition-based shows where the presenter awards points for a correct answer. Another example is in review-based shows such as The Gadget Show, America’s Next Top Model, Top Gear and The Culture Show.
Finally, there are programmes where the participants themselves are the judges, with the viewing audience judging the judges. For example, Come Dine With Me and Wife Swap.
The interesting thing about these judgement variants isn’t the sheer variety on offer, but instead, the importance of judging to the production itself. Having judges as a key element creates added drama, critical review, additional commentary and interpretation for the viewer. Viewers learn that there are technical standards to reach. They can learn more about the technical standards being assessed. They are made aware of the extent of genuine innovation on offer, since the judges often comment on examples of originality and technical difficulty when they see them. Judges can also be colourful characters, competing with the contestants for entertainment value to the viewer.
Arguably, many of our public policies are designed to encourage participation rather than winning the race. Yet the very presence of judgement in so many areas of our lives suggests people cannot help but make comparisons.
A popular trend is the creation of award ceremonies. Many sporting groups, companies, trade and professional bodies hold them to pay tribute to important achievement in that field. In sport, there are leagues, world cups and the Olympics. In Science, there are Nobel prizes, while the motion picture industry has the Academy Awards.
In fields such as education, there are student report cards, school and university league tables. In business, there are employee performance reports, entity credit ratings, audit reports, accreditation standards, market research results and share prices.
Governments create policies, regulators and laws, all leading to judgements made on a daily basis.
Finally, we the voters get to sit in judgement at every election cycle.
So what can we learn from the above? To embrace diversity, but embrace objective judgement with it. That judgement has an important place, providing the criticism is constructive. That judgement on style is different from judgement on substance. And finally, that judgement needs its reasons. Just as reasons need fairness.
I recently read a January 2011 housing survey prepared for Barratt Homes by ComRes, an independent polling firm. The survey results showed that for prospective UK house buyers under the age of forty, more than a third thought it unfair that those over forty had accumulated so much wealth from owning their house, because of rising house prices.
In the survey, more than 60% of those aged under forty agreed or strongly agreed that when thinking about buying a new home, they could not afford to buy one as big as the one their parents lived in when they were the same age.
Just resentment is always wise to note and wiser still to act on. For a variety of reasons, wealth distribution is uneven. Regardless of age group. Economic cycles hit some cohorts of mortgage applicants and university graduates harder than others and none of us individually controls the timing of those cycles. Nevertheless, those over forty owe it to younger generations to help them forward. Just as our parent’s generation helped us progress. After all, it is the younger generations that will carry forward our culture and civilisation.
So what can we do to help? Charity begins at home, as the saying goes. Providing shelter, advice and other assistance to our kids is a good start. They can still develop their independence and identity without necessarily leaving home early. Helping them keep a close blood connection for longer when their other group identities such as employer, personal relationships and non work interests keep changing is no bad thing either.
Our generation talking less about ‘the good old days’ might dampen their fires of resentment. After all, there is much that is positive to embrace in current culture, medical advances and technological change.
Leading by example in celebrating our local community is another idea. Should we really expect the ‘Big Society’ in whatever eventual form it takes, to be led by those under forty?
Charity fundraising by the generation over forty is great. Perhaps however, some of it needs to benefit our local communities. These are the ones our kids will now live in for longer, thanks to the unaffordability of new housing.
To help solve the problems of global warming, pollution, famine, disease, civil war, racial and religious conflict, cyber crime, terrorism, conflicting media values, corruption and loss of faith in many of today’s institutions, new generations will need all the over forties’ wisdom, expertise and advice they can get and then some. There really isn’t an us and them. We’re in the lifeboat together.