perjantai 30. elokuuta 2013

Day 303: The insanity of a contest


When I was working as a judge in the children's singing contest a few days ago I heard about an email the organizer had received from the mother of a child who didn't make it to the final round from the semifinals. In the email she had written that the entire family had cried for hours because of disappointment, and that the situation was organized so that the contestants who were “eliminated” were publicly embarrassed. In fact, the organizers had deliberately tried to avoid any embarrassment or separation and had arranged the setting so that no one would be lifted above anyone else, but these precautions were not enough to stop a child / a family from taking the situation personally.

Hearing this paired up with other things I'd seen among the parents I learned something.

Most contestants (their families included) do not realize a contest is just a game; therefore, no matter how nice, soft and friendly you try to make your contest, if it is organized without taking into consideration the fact that people don't know “how to compete” (how to not take it personally), it is irresponsible to organize a contest, because it will end up causing harm among those who do not yet understand. This is especially because we are talking about children who get fucked up more easily.

I also realized something while I was sitting among the judges and listening to the contestants singing. Another judge was sitting next to me and every now and then she would sigh at the end of a performance and just keep on sighing while I was writing down notes on each performer. I thought about that sense of wonder, amazement or “love” she might be experiencing while hearing these children sing, while I was trying to see past my experience (nostalgia, sadness, joy, wonder, whatever arose while I heard the songs) and to focus on who the child was when he/she was performing – how were they trying – as whom were they singing.

I then realized that the decision we as a jury would come to would most likely be completely arbitrary – chosen on random terms – because we had not agreed on what to judge before the competition began. Others would look at their emotional experience, which has nothing to do with the child; others would focus on their technical abilities, which alone doesn't say anything about the child as a being expressing him/herself. I realized that it is insane to have a contest because the result is based on fluff – and yet these people attending it take it extremely seriously! The children stand there waiting for the results, nerve-wrecked and trembling, looking at the jury in horror and anticipation, and the parents paste a smile on their face to act as if their child's inevitable loss didn't shake them down to their core.

I had my chance to speak to the audience but I didn't utilize it, as all of this came together only after the contest. What I should have told them is:

Hello everyone, thank you for being here and being such a great support for all these children when they performed. All of you contestants did very well. Each one of you was immensely brave to come here in front of all these people, and each one of you sang very well. I could see that you enjoyed singing, and I hope that you will all keep on singing everywhere you go, with everyone you meet. Songs are stories that we share and create with each other, like books that you can hear.

The reason you had this competition arranged for you today was so that you could show yourselves that you are brave, and that you do not have to fear other people. When you sing you show others who you are, because when you sing everyone can hear you; everyone can see you, and everyone wants to see you. Today you let yourself be seen. So that means that everyone of you succeeded! Give yourself a handshake and say: “congratulations, me!”

So the results of this contest don't really matter; I could just throw them away right now and nobody would ever know what the seven of us judges decided. How could we ever decide who really deserves these prizes, this keyboard, these microphones? How could we ever know which one of you already has a keyboard or doesn't even want a keyboard? How could we know whether any of you actually wants a keyboard or just to see your mother smile? I would love to give the first place to the one who needs this keyboard the most, but we do not know enough about you to decide that. And that is why our silly opinions about the teeny weeny glimpse we saw of you on this stage, nervous and frightened, is what we have used to decide who gets which prize. That's all we have, and that is unfair towards all of you. I would love to see you sing with your friends and family, or when you are alone. I'm sure you all sing way better when you're not on this awful stage.

So, I will now announce the results, because that is what everyone wants to hear. But please bear in mind that they are not real – they tell nothing of the reality. The one who wins first price is not a better singer than everyone else here. The one who doesn't win anything is not a bad singer. We, the judges, we're just people like you, and in fact we do not know better. We know nothing at all. The only one who knows what you are worth is YOU. So give yourself another handshake and join me here on stage. Here's the results.

It would've been a little less elaborate in a 2-minute speech, lol, but to show myself how I could've handled the situation.

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