Friday, August 26, 2011

Qualified or Quantified?

What does it mean to be qualified? It used to mean you had a degree, extensive training, or some sort of certification that made it okay for you to practice a given profession or seem credible at dinner parties when the topic of conversation lent itself to your area of 'expertise.' But the word 'qualified' seems to have taken on a new meaning. Now I hear of people who have failed to pass the bar exam yet still work for law firms, claiming to be lawyers; teachers who are not certified or can't pass the Praxis II but still instruct in the classroom. Then there is the all-too-prevalent general contractor who doesn't do his homework, hiring subs who have no credentials but claim to be electricians, plumbers, or framers by trade. Sure, houses still get built, people still get legal advice, and students still receive instruction, but shouldn't the word qualified mean something more than just an ability to fake one's way through a task? After all, the word itself almost sounds like the word quality, and if my ninth grade knowledge of Latin roots does not disappoint, I believe they have the same root origin. Quality. Qualified. Yes, I think there should be a connection in the two words' connotations.

These days, it seems anyone is deemed qualified if they talk loud enough, spout generalities, and claim to have done extensive research. Research. There is another term that is so overused it no longer means anything (at least to those of us who are under-impressed by the loud voices of the self-proclaimed 'qualified' ranters). I believe what many people refer to as research is often confused with life experience—something that is undeniably important and should never be discounted, BUT SHOULD NOT BE MISTAKEN AS RESEARCH. When someone says they have done “the research,” I am expecting to see charts, graphs, and years of data and statistics that have been analyzed by numerous sources on both sides of an argument. I expect to see control group studies, proven testing methods, logs, journals, discriminating factors, experiments, failings, and consistent results and evidence that point to an informed claim.

I think it funny when someone says they have "done the research over the last decade,” when in reality what they are saying is that they have personally noticed a growing trend and have done little more than observe it. I believe the proper terminology for a person engaged in this type of passive reflection would be an 'observer' not a researcher. Then there are people who feel qualified to offer an informed evaluation on any given topic, claiming to have “read the research”-- a phrase that is generally code for someone spending an afternoon Googling an issue of choice. I believe the proper terminology for such a person in this instance would be a 'web surfer' not an informed 'expert' as the easily impressed might think.

Expert. There is another word that gets me. What makes someone an expert? While this word is used a bit more sparingly than 'qualified' or 'research,' its meaning still seems to have been diluted over the years as more and more experts are popping up like pimples on the face of an acne-infected society. News outlets, talk shows, and the increasingly popular reality series are prime examples of mediums that are overly saturated with 'experts' who claim to have the astringents that will cleanse America's proverbial pores where the dirt,oil, and scum of the human condition sinisterly reside (okay, enough with the zit metaphor). You get the idea.

Experts are everywhere. But are the self-promoting experts of today really necessary? Doesn't their expertise and research often resemble lessons from the past--lessons learned from the bonafide researchers of yesteryear, or better yet, our grandmothers' idiomatic generation? Are we really so delusional today that we need an 'expert' life coach to tell us how to live happily? I thought that's what honest friends and religious beliefs were for. Do we really need body image experts telling us to get over ourselves and realize that the images portrayed in Hollywood are ridiculous and unattainable for most working-class Americans? I thought that's what mirrors were for. Do parents really need educational experts telling them that reading every day will help determine their child's success in school? I thought that's what common sense was for. And finally, do women really need a sex and family relations expert telling them how to get in the mood and feel more libidinous in the privacy of their own bedrooms? I thought that's what Kevin Costner movies were for...

Silly me. Perhaps I just haven't realized that I, myself, am indeed a qualified expert who has done years of research in my own right. Maybe I should write a book, start an advice column, or begin promoting my observations as research to all who will listen. Maybe I can help appease the masses who seemingly ache for someone to tell them how to act, what to wear, how to parent, what to read, who to trust, what to watch, or how to feel.

Then again, maybe I am not an expert, after all. Maybe I am just someone who is loud and likes to share her opinions regarding her own observations and life experience. But, hey, according to the research I've done over the past two decades, there really is no difference.


Debbie said...

I think you are highly qualified. And, yes, you should write a book or start an advice column. I would read it. Definitely! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the encouragement:) I will admit that some of this post was inspired by my experience a few weeks ago. It felt strange to have people assume I was an expert on the topic of writing just because I had been asked to present. I kept having to tell them that I didn't do the research, I only knew what I knew from my own classroom experience, but that didn't seem to matter. Then I have had a few experiences where I was listening to someone who I knew was overstating their "expertise" or inflating their resume just to impress or seem credible. Both sides of this make me uncomfortable...
Now, YOU on the other hand, are the real deal. Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge so freely with others. I admire that!

Chris (my server won't let me post as me:)