To Qualify

Much to be learned by the study of the word “qualify”.

According to the etymology dictionary, qualify is from mid-15c., “to invest with a quality,” from Middle French qualifier (15c.) and directly from Medieval Latin qualificare “attribute a quality to; make of a certain quality,” from Latin qualis “of what sort?,” correlative pronominal adjective (see quality) + combining form of facere “to make” (from PIE root *dhe- “to set, put”). Meaning “to limit, modify” is from 1530s. Sense of “be fit for a job” first appeared 1580s. Related: Qualified; qualifying.

Hmm, “to make of what sort” or “what sort to make of it”. Either way there is a question here, something to solve in some way. A judgement is to be made.

Sometimes clarity comes when we look at the opposite. Defining qualify or qualified might be easier if we look at “disqualified.”

Now, that is a harsh judgement. Often it is used in cases where a qualified person has broken a rule, which has moved that person to a disqualified status.

This tells us that being qualified is following a previous set rule, an agreed upon structure. To qualify or be qualified, is to adhere to a standard set by others. I don’t think it is possible to qualify yourself.

Disqualified moves something/someone from an approved status to a non-approved status. A person can also be “not qualified”, meaning they never were qualified in the first place. This would be the case when the person did not go through the steps that lead to a previously agreed structure.

It is possible that a person can be “tested” in, or to bypass some, or even all the steps, depending how flexible the structure is to modifications.

So why are there qualifying steps to the structure in the first place? A social safeguard. Someone may be skilled as an engineer, but society has learned that a qualified engineer is better, considering all the safety issues.

A doctor has years of training and is skilled in healing, but a doctor who has qualified as a plastic surgeon is to be trusted as a specialist in that field.

So far there is no red flags in the definition of how we use “qualify”, apart from the inability to qualify yourself. But I think there are subtle problems that we don’t generally consider.

We often think that experience, talents, and natural gifts “qualify” an individual. This might be true if the “qualifying” structure allows it. Remember, “qualifying” is not self-determined. A structure is created by an agency that determines how qualifications are applied.

The most common form is passing successfully an apprenticeship, or testing out of an academic program with a degree. The degree is another way of notifying society that an individual is “qualified”.

We like to honor talented, naturally gifted people, by making them qualified even when they have not met the standards that would make them qualified.

In a practical sense we can think about a mechanic that is very good, fast, and incredibly gifted at fixing cars. And we can compare that to an approved mechanic that your insurance company recommends. One of them is qualified, but might not be the most skilled. It is tempting to bestow “qualified” upon talented people with lots of experience, and in some cases the qualifying structure may allow it, with some proof or acclaim.

Extreme example, Pablo Picasso maybe “qualified” to teach art without an academic degree. The institution that “qualifies” is still the determining factor, not the individual, or the approval of the general public. Now, would I take a class from Pablo if the institution refuses to “qualify” him? Haha! The question is can he teach? Sitting in a room with him may be cool, but hardly worth the time if he just sits there.

My life experience is mostly on the side of doing work that I am unqualified for. I have even been hired into positions that require a qualification that I did not have. I did not lie, nor did I fudge my resume. I provided my experience and quality of the work that I have done, which pointed to the work I would do. I have been blessed to be able to apply myself in areas where I was unqualified.

And now that I’m am retired, I believe that I have met for the first time, all the qualifications necessary.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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