To judge or to edit — with "tough love"

Natasha Graham, a senior at Northern High School, serves as the teen editor-in-chief of the Durham VOICE.


I personally try not to judge people as much as I can, because honestly, I don’t think it’s my place to do so.  I figure, who am I to say whether or not something is “right” or “good enough” when everyone has a different definition of that?

So, on the few occasions when I do have to judge an individual’s work, or “peer edit,” I always have a hard time with it.  I never know how to correct them effectively without crossing a line.

For instance, recently in my creative writing class, we wrote memoirs about a moment that changed our lives, and let three of our peers read and write comments on what they read.

Our teacher gave us an outline to help us know what we should be doing, but it was still pretty hard to write comments for the memoirs I got.  This one guy had a lot of grammatical errors in his memoir: he wrote “boys” like “boyz.”  To me those are grammatical errors, but to him, that could just be his style of writing.

And can you really judge someone’s style?

Also, the other memoirs that I got were on pretty personal subjects, things like parents getting divorced or trying to figure out about your sextuality, and other subjects in the serious circumfrence.

So, when it came time to comment on these I really didn’t know what to say about this very personal paper that was shared with me. I felt like if I wrote a negative comment, the writer would think that I was judging them and their life experience, and of course I didn’t want to do that.

Because, really who are we to judge another individual’s life?

I realize that peer editing is a tool to help our peers become better at what they do.  To suggest ways that could help them highlight what they are trying to say, in the technical sense.  Like when art students have to do student critics in class, they have to explain to their to their peers and what message they were trying to portray with the piece.  If you were in this person’s place, you would be terrified.  Inside, you’re thinking that your peers are just going to pick your drawing apart, this piece that you have been working on for weeks, that you have tirelessly sketched for and thought about so much over that period of time.

I feel that this is the general ideas when it comes to critiquing or editing and it’s just not right.  These methods are here to help people become better at what they do, a way to widen their horizons to new ideas and possibilities.  New ideas that could make their work stand out more than it never did before.

It is not, however, a way to demean an individual’s work with sayings like, “That’s ugly,” or, “That’s not right,” or, “That’s a stupid idea,” — that is judging.  That is not constructive criticism; that is just making a blunt, judgmental comment that is not beneficial to the person being judged, and can not be backed up by anything other than sheer ignorance.

We all want people with whom we can share things.  Whether that be a personal memoir or a precious piece of art, either way, for people to be comfortable with sharing important things with us, they need an open minded, intelligent community that will not completely reject their ideas.  They need a community where everyone is their to help.

So, in closing, let’s stop judging and start editing.


Natasha Graham, a senior at Northern High School, is serving as the teen editor-in-chief of the Durham VOICE.