Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Stamp of Approval
Big Brother is always watching.

I beieve that the hardest things we have to do is pick a doctor and an auto machanic. Why? Because they both have mysterious knowledge, they both can drastically effect our day-to-day lives and (most of all) we have no way of knowing if they know what they are doing. How are we to tell?

Say hello to ratings, certifications, diplomas, rankings and other stamps of approval. How do we know an actress is any good? Well, she must be. She won an Oscar, didn't she? How do we know this guy is safe enough to come out with us on the big lake? Well, hell, he is a one, two, three or more-star rated paddler by ACA, the BCU or the American Acadamey of Kayaking Assesments.

Your mechanic shows his certificates of training on the walls of his place, just like your neighborhood brain surgeon. And, speaking of doctors, yours has a diploma (MD), certificates showing he completed internship, residency and fellowship...and he is board certified. You have no idea what that means or who or what certified him or her. Point here is, they all have The Stamp of Approval...from somewhere.

Fine and dandy. I would feel safer going to a doctor with all the wall paper up than one who smokes a cigar, operates out of the back of a van and says, "Trust me." On the other hand, I have seen too many "highly qualified" and board certified doctors who I would not allow to treat my dog ((I love that dog...but I digress). The harsh truth is that it is impossible to use a written test to see how someone will perform under fire.

At least in sports, like kayaking and judo, one (read:I) has to actually demonstrate some level of skill to get TheStamps of Approval and, knowing what I went through to get them, I tend to trust the assessment of other paddlers and judokas. Having mumbled all this, we come to our personal need to have "grade AAA" stamped on our asses.

I see paddlers struggling with the decision of whether or not to try and get a higher BCU rating or to take the open water test to be an open water instructor. I see colleagues, who are instructors, trying to decide whether or not to put in the time and money to be stamped "he who teaches instructors to be instructors." And I understand all this.

Those of us who teach mostly do so on a very part time basis. When I go up to Madison to teach an intro course, I clear just over $1.10 after gas and taxes for a 3 hour class and a 170 mile round trip of driving. How smart can I be? I will never make back what it cost to become a certified instructor. I can never recover the expense of having The Stamp of Approval on my ass. I spent and the time and money for the simple reason that I love to teach.

Sometimes one just wants (read: needs) someone they respect to tell them they are competent. Sometimes it is ego. Mostly, and I truly believe this, we want to know that we are, in fact, competent and safe to be with, that we are not a danger to fellow paddlers, that we are not the weak link in the chain. We take pride in our skills and challenge ourselves to improve because we love the game and, when you get right down to it, that is the nature of folks who take up risk sports. In the end, we seek some sort of balance between that feeling of brovada that wants to go out in anyting and everything and that gut-feeling of fear that tells us we may be getting in over our heads.

Be honest with yourself. You know, or should know, your capabilities and your limits; and no piece of paper (or wallet-size card) stating otherwise will change that reality. You are as good as you are...right now. You can be better tomorrow. (We all know how to get to Carnigie Hall).

Paddle safe...

No comments: