Validation – Rory Miller

You can’t be sure. There is no such thing as a “survival level of proficiency.” The world has a 100% death rate and no matter how skilled, equipped, or physically gifted you are, there is stuff out there that can splat you like a bug on a windshield. That’s just the way it is. The one thing that’s a safe bet is that if you are sure your stuff is adequate, you are already setting yourself up for failure.

No matter how tested something is or under what conditions it has been tested, all you know is that you haven’t found the failure point yet. But the failure point is out there. So is your stuff valid? That depends how far you have tested your stuff. There is a point where it will cease to work. And the uncertainty increases when it is not tested. When there is no way to validate a thing, humans seek validation instead.

You can’t be 100% sure of very much. 1+1=2 with high reliability when applied to rocks. It’s less reliable when applied to rabbits. When you can’t be sure (validity) people want to feel sure (validation).

How does one go about validation? They like be told by other people that they are good. There are a lot of rituals and trappings to it, but that’s the essence. A black belt. Certificates and trophies. Creating “Councils of Masters” who cross-certify each other as “Masters.” In the RBSD world, you have instructors who are combing academic abstracts looking for studies that appear to justify their own beliefs or discredit a competitor’s. Everybody wants a guy in a white coat with a PhD after his name to validate their approach. The academic researcher takes the place of the shaman is this quest in this culture.

And that last, science, isn’t bad. If you are scientifically literate (understand experimental design, the scientific method and the basics of statistical analysis as a start) and read the actual article, not just the abstract. And don’t cherry-pick too hard.

But the rest aren’t bad, either. Sort of. I want validation too. My validation comes from the respect of people that I respect. Hmmmm. Sort of. I respect almost everyone as a matter of courtesy. But when I look at my closest friends, I’m a little humbled to be accepted in their company. But it can be a fine line between a group of operators and former operators telling war stories and and a cross-certifying Master’s Council. I’m fairly positive that each of those “masters” convince themselves that the others on the council are extraordinary and being allowed in is a compliment (even if one Hall of Fame award was offered to every member of a certain martial arts forum one year. Sigh.)

There are certificates that mean a lot to me because of who they came from and how they were earned. And I know there are, or used to be, certificates that came in a sheaf with a box of DVDs all pre-signed by the “master” so that you could fill them out and show potential students your hundreds of certifications.

And trophies– you win an olympic judo medal or a UFC title and you are one tough son of a bitch, dedicated and skilled. Or you can just go to an event that has three times as many categories as competitors and come home with a pocketful of gold medals from events where you had no opposition. The good and worthless trophies look just the same on the wall.

It can look like the goal is to be strong enough not to need outside validation, to be so sure that you don’t need other people telling you how good you are. But that doesn’t work either, because some of the worst instructors I have seen had a profoundly over-developed ego. Someone who truly feels superior usually sucks (Dunning-Kruger) and are most likely to reject outside opinions yet most likely to need them.

Sometimes I  think about offering a certification program in thinking for yourself. The catch being that if you want a certificate in autonomy from someone else, you don’t get it. You don’t get the certificate or the concept.

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