Saturday, November 22, 2008

Judge's Seat or Mercy Seat?

Five people in a balloon, you can only save 3, they are:
- A journalist who can't dance
- A member of the BNP
- A talent show judge
- A person with a diagnosed mental illness
- A disgraced former chat show presenter.

There's been an awful lot of judging this past week, not all of it to the same standard, some of it to double standards. For example:

1. Talent shows. John Sergeants departure from Strictly Come Dancing may have hogged the headlines, but the X Factor judges were just as keen to see the back of one of their contestants. Not because he couldn't sing, but because the last time an older man won the competition he didn't sell many records. Cowell and Walsh were just as harsh on Daniel Evans as the SCD judges have been on Sargeant. Were they judging talent, or potential sales - well, who am I to judge....

2. Angus Deayton taking Jonathan Ross's place as the host of the Comedy Awards. The BBC enquiry found the R&B calls 'deplorable', and no doubt Ross will do his time and be back, just as Deayton has done. Second chances are good, and it remains to be seen whether we see a contrite and changed JR in the new year, or whether Manuelgate becomes just another source of comic material.

3. BNP members. From the little I know of The List, I'm not sure I'll ever look at railway enthusiasts the same way again... Some sackings, threats and public denials, have followed the membership leak, yet membership of the BNP is not a crime. Certain occupations are barred to membership, and rightly so, but we don't as yet have thought crime in this country, and we never should. Yet the label makes it easy to judge people, which ironically is a language the BNP are quite familiar with.

4. On labels, well done to Horizon for an excellent two-parter on mental illness. 'How Mad Are You?' followed 10 volunteers, 5 of whom had mental disorders, and showed just how 'normal' they looked. A team of psychiatrists, despite the aid of video footage and some specially designed tests, only guessed 2 of them right. The programmes showed both that there's a spectrum of mental health, and that recovery from mental illness is possible.

The BBC's Headroom has made a real effort to educate and de-stigmatise mental illness. Whilst depression and 'stress' are increasingly ok (and almost vital if you're a celebrity), there are other conditions which are less well known, with which many people suffer in silence for fear of what others will think. I was struck by the courage of Dan, who spoke openly about his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (nearly 2m sufferers in the UK), in the hope that it would encourage others and help to break the taboo around it. It's a horrible illness to have, and one which many are afraid to admit to, David Beckham being a notable exception. (On a similar theme, Bishop Alan has recently posted on eating disorders, worth a look)

With so many TV shows based around judges - either in the studio or the massed ranks texting in their votes - we seem to be training ourselves daily to pass judgement on people we've never met. Someone I know has suffered a torrent of online abuse this week for a public statement of his Christian faith. And because we know judging is so common, we also become experts at concealing stuff that might get judged by others.

Wouldn't we be a better society if we could be open about our deepest beliefs, fears and weaknesses without being jumped on? Fear and criticism can create a ghetto mentality, where no critics are admitted, which in turn makes entrenched beliefs less and less open to reason. Witch hunts don't find witches, they just create devils out of those who pursue them.

Jesus, who himself was voted off by both the judges and the public, once said 'judge not, so that you yourself are not judged'. Of course he's right, societies and individuals are both healthier for getting out of the judgement seat and sitting in the mercy seat instead. Now, who's going to tell Simon Cowell?

This is a cross-post from the Wardman Wire.

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