I Am, I Said

Everyone understands and values the merits associated with credentials.

Members of the press, for instance, carry credentials and present them as the situation demands. Though seeming a little peculiar among First Amendment fundamentalists, in a world of troubling events such presentations get a “pass.”

Citizens of one nation traveling to another must possess credentials to cross the border. Passports are the most common currency, enhanced driver’s licenses will do for certain borders and certain citizens.

Credentials are conferred by another to an individual. People don’t confer credentials on themselves. Individuals must meet certain criteria in order to gain the credential.

There’s nothing new about this. In fact, it’s medieval.

Trade guilds were perhaps among the first to confer professional (as opposed to honorific) credentials. The system was pretty simple and straightforward.

Typically, there were three rungs on the ladder: apprentice, journeyman, craftsman. (There are other arrangements and labels; all signify growth of skill and ability.)

And the motivation for forming such guilds was both to control who had access to the craft’s secrets as well as to signify mastery of the craft.

One might progress from the guy who carries the lumber to the guy who saws the lumber, and from the guy who measures the wood to the guy who fits the wood.

Not all carpenters, for instance, became cabinetmakers. While carpentry requires skill and precision, the tolerance for error is much wider than for cabinetmaking.

Being off by a quarter inch for the 16-inches on center wall stud is something most of us can live with. If we’re even able to notice.

A quarter inch gap at the miter joint for our kitchen cupboard, though, is unacceptable.

One wonders if credentials today retain the same level of meaning and significance they once did. Seemingly, one can order virtually any kind of credential off the Internet. Or, even easier, just assign it to yourself.

Now I’m off to get my divinity degree from (to steal an old Don Imus expression) The First Church of the Gooey Death and Discount House of Worship.

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