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“I am, as I’ve said, merely competent. But in an age of incompetence, that makes me extraordinary.” Billy Joel

What is ‘competence’? Webster’s Dictionary describes it as ‘the quality of being capable, sufficiency, capacity’; Wikipedia goes further and says it means (among other biological and scientific definitions) Competence is the ability of an individual to do a job properly’. And there’s the rub.

Using the Human Resources, work orientated definition of competence is something I made the error of doing in my two editions of The Three Resolutions, a mistake I intend to correct in the 3rd Edition. Not because that definition is incorrect, but because its application solely in respect of ‘work’ is far too narrow. Competence is applicable to more than work – it’s applicable to all areas of life.

Those who now me will be well aware that I can be spectacularly pedantic about things like English Grammar, driving standards, and the way people speak. There are two reasons for this.

First, as a student of Stephen Covey, I am familiar with how what happens around us can influence our thinking and behaviour; on the plus side it is how we learned to talk as children, but on the minus side it’s how we learn to speak as adults. Due to the well-intentioned recognition of diversity on the telly, our children and many respectable figures are now unable to pronounce the letter ‘t’ at the end of words like Got and But. Children in mid-Wales speak in a Gangsta-rap Jamaican patois, innit. And the use of ‘myself’ by Essex coppers trying to sound clever has resulted in millions of people now sounding thick as s41t when they persistently use ‘myself’ as a pronoun. (To see what I mean, say it with an adenoidal twang.)

As someone who believes that we can choose differently I therefore detest unthinking compliance with anything.

The second reason I am pedantic is because in the fields I mention, and indeed in all fields of human existence, there are standards which, if observed, make life better for us as individuals, and for everyone else as well. Those standards we will call, for the sake of this article, ‘competencies’.

We are all required to demonstrate a low level of competence when learning to control a ton of metal at speed, and immediately after passing our tests we lower that standard. We are all well aware that the law and scientists tell us that using a mobile while driving is dangerous, yet so many of us selfishly carry on doing it, attacking those who point out our stupidity. We are all taught in school how to use apostrophes, yet even those eminently capable of understanding the simple rules for their use consistently fail to apply that knowledge. Not to mention the equally simple different uses of your, you’re, there, their, and they’re. And if I read an ‘intelligent person’ has written ‘should of’ I weep.

It’s about Standards, reader. Not moral standards – that’s a whole other topic – but about a willingness to at least try and be the best we can be; in the way we eat, drive, speak, write, work, think, learn, and so on. And to stop making excuses about it not mattering when someone points it out.

If you want to make excuses about standards, maybe your brake mechanic will be okay to do the same, sometime.

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