Judging – Is our cynicism overiding our common sense?

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The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently – Friedrich Nietzsche

Apart from war which is always tragically with us, corruption seems to be the current defining social theme of the 21st Century. It has always been there of course, floating silently beneath the surface of society, but the last few years, primarily through the research of journalists on the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, it has been raised Kraken like, generating fear and revulsion as revelations concerning both the Lords and the Commons, local government, newspapers, the police force, the care of the elderly, the sordid behaviour of some celebrities and those involved in the Paedophile Information Exchange have come to light. Conspiracies of silence, cover-ups, lies both in and out of the Courts, and smoke and mirrors are techniques with which we have become all too familiar: this means it becomes more and more difficult for ordinary people such as you and me to trust institutions, organisations and, I am afraid, each other.

The damage to society and to the trust we have in those institutions to which we, through our support, subscriptions or votes are party to, is immense but as a proportion, those who behave unacceptably, whether they are violent, criminals, sexual predators or bullies is, in fact, relatively small. They nevertheless have an disproportionate impact on the cultural health of the country by damaging and distorting personal and public relationships.

During a discussion at a recent show I was told by someone that I was naive and too trusting of people, the implication being that I did not understand the workings of the ‘real world’. I did not see it as a criticism at the time: I tend to trust people until I have evidence (other than hearsay) to the contrary. And if being naive means I believe people are essentially good and their mistakes (if acknowledged and reparations offered and/or completed) should be taken in the context of kettles and throwing the first stone, I am happy to be naive. We are all human and inevitably imperfect but I am beginning to wonder whether my ‘cynical gene’ has not been too deeply buried.

Different views from experienced people 

 In this context judging has once again become an especially hot topic. Recent articles have led to a great deal of discussion at shows and while at East of England Show I was interested to hear the views of a number of very experienced judges held in high esteem. I was not surprised that they all had very different views both on the current situation, the possible solutions and what might be done to improve the processes of training and appointments. On the positive side I was particularly pleased that one judge, already passed for many breeds, told me she had fulfilled her objectives. But she is still attending as many Judging Development Programmes (JDPs) as she can. She wants to learn about other breeds so when they come into the Group ring or in Stakes classes she can better assess them. The downside is that although she therefore has many credits under the JDP she regularly has to explain to secretaries that although she would almost certainly be passed to award tickets in those breeds she does not want to do so.

At the other end of the scale another judge told me that they did not feel the JDP or breed seminars were of much value because the information provided was so similar. For her it was much more important to go over as many dogs as possible and she felt that working alongside experienced specialists either with them as mentors or with her as their student judge were the preferred options.

Both were critical of many ‘up and coming’, young(ish) all rounders who they did not feel had the depth of experience which came from going over many hundreds of dogs at a wide variety shows. Many experienced all breed judges also feel that their work, experience and knowledge is not appreciated by exhibitors and that the problems we have had with breeds becoming too extreme is entirely down to specialists who lack their broad appreciation and understanding of soundness. There was concern, too, that some judges, both specialists and all breed, continue to judge beyond the point at which they can comfortably go over dogs and it was clear from a brief survey of some of the rings at the show that there was some truth in this.

The crux of the matter 

 But the crux of this matter is a curious dissonance: over the years every judge with whom I have discussed these issues has been adamant that they judge absolutely to the standard, that they have worked hard to achieve their status as a judge and would, under no circumstances, place any dog other than on merit. On the other hand those same judges believe that many of their colleagues do place dogs for reasons other than of merit or through lack of knowledge of the breed they are judging. They agree, as do many exhibitors, that a good deal of judging is about faces, status, not wanting to be out of step or returning or expecting favours. And even those who cry from the rooftops about the importance of judging fairly and seeking out the very best dogs, whatever their age, are distorting the playing field by promoting those very best dogs: less experienced judges may have their opinion swayed in the future.

Essentially, judging must be about each individual dog and the breed standard. Nothing else should interfere with that assessment. It should be the exhibitor’s expectation too. Mistakes are inevitable (who has not completed a class or handed out a ticket and wondered whether they have ‘got it right’?). But mistakes can only be acceptable if they are the result of lack of experience or knowledge – and are not excusable for any other reason. Even then, if mistakes happen often perhaps the judge needs more training – although it must be admitted that one of the most serious problem is that too many judges would not themselves believe that they lack the basic skills or an eye for a dog.

But who is to tell them that they are wrong? If they have been involved with showing, breeding and judging for a long time, if they have jumped through all the hoops and completed the criteria, might those who disagree be wrong themselves? We columnists are very free with our opinions but these are only opinions however sincerely they are held.

Might the best policy be to be more trusting rather than less? Perhaps we should each accept that there is a broad range of views which may be different but which, because they are honestly held, do still have value? Might the dog which seems to win everything under everyone in reality actually be the best?

Are we, because of the focus of current news stories allowing our cynicism to override our judgement? I hope so.


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