Levels of Competence (updated)

While on vacation recently, my wife and I attended a 2-day defensive handgun course at Front Sight Firearms Training Institute. It was partly experimental, to see if the online descriptions of this training are borne out in reality. I wanted to know about the level and quality of training, but I also hoped it would be good enough to help my dear wife to achieve a level of proficiency and comfort with the use of a handgun that might prove decisive in a situation where she might have to defend herself and/or our children in my absence.

The level of training exceeded my high expectations and hopes. One would not think that so much could be taught in only two long days, but the curriculum is geared toward both quality and quantity of training. I regret somewhat that we had not signed up for the 4-day defensive handgun class instead, though I intend to take it sometime later.

Part of the curriculum at Front Sight is training in manual skills, which are important for obvious reasons. Yet at least half of the training is mental work. I intend to reflect on elements of what was taught in several blog posts. One might wonder why I’d like to do this. My reasons are threefold:

  1. In order to undertake a systematic review of what I learned.

  2. Because a number of those concepts may be applied in other disciplines more directly related to the usual topics I address here.

  3. Because those who read these posts might learn something useful, and may even find it interesting.

I’m restricted from reproducing the classroom materials here or quoting them extensively, and I probably won’t even quote them to the full degree of “fair use,” though I will use their terminology.

The first concept I’d like to consider is “levels of competence.” How skilled are you in the disciplines that you consider to be important?

fs: http://www.frontsight.comFront Sight distinguishes several levels of competence, applying these to skill at arms. However, these categories may easily apply to other skills too.

First, there are some who are intentionally incompetent. They are the ones who have made a conscious decision to be and remain unskilled. It may sound ridiculous, but we nevertheless meet people who for various reasons (fear, politics, religion, economic factors, etc.) do not want any aptitude at all. In the case of skill at arms, some of them have been educated by school or media in the fallacy that weapons are intrinsically dangerous in the sense that it is more risky to be near a weapon or to touch one than it would be to engage in any other activity. This is easily shown to be a fallacy by the far more dangerous occupational hazards that injure or kill daily.

The hazards of traveling in the wilderness of Mt.~Hood or the Grand Canyon have claimed many lives, and though injuries and deaths continue, many others engage in those hazardous activities safely, with great benefit. Farming and commercial fishing are also notoriously hazardous, but even home maintenance can be quite dangerous. Motorcycle riding has a reputation for great risk too, though driving in 4-wheeled cages (cars) assumes similar risks. Yet in all of these examples, many people undertake “risky” activities to great advantage.

People who are intentionally incompetent, if they ever attempt the activity involving their incompetence, are almost certain to hurt themselves, and probably innocent neighbors too. However, if those people become competent (even if they still don’t enjoy using their skills), then they are far less likely to cause injury to themselves or others through negligence or blunders. The tragedy is that most of them have already made their decision to be incompetent. So if they are ever thrust into a situation in which skills are needed, someone is probably going to get hurt, and maybe killed.

Update in this paragraph: As I was originally writing this post out, I forgot one of the levels of competence: the unconsciously incompetent. These are people who assume that they are competent, but don’t really have the experience or exposure to training that would show them otherwise. In terms of firearm skills, most people who deal with firearms would fall into this category. They may have never considered competence to be an important question, or something that they might improve. Most people are never confronted with their own incompetence as a problem, and of those who are confronted, many will deny or poo-poo it anyway. It’s hard to admit that you don’t stack up.

Third, some are consciously incompetent. They are not opposed to learning skills, and understand that competence would be to their advantage. Napoleon Dynamite is a great example, and is iconic for many of us who lament our lack of skills in various areas. What people like us need is training and inspiration, whether in the form of a cassette and groovy dance moves or a course at Front Sight, or something else.

Fourth, some are consciously competent. These have learned what they need to know, and are able to apply it whenever the need arises. This is the level of competence that satisfies me in most areas, and which I try to achieve, if possible. It requires some effort, not only in the learning or training process, but also in maintaining those skills. I have some amount of conscious competence now in certain areas, like handgun defense, but I’m also conscious of much more that I don’t know. You can see, then, that these categories are not exclusive. They are also a bit idealistic, because nobody fits only one category. Yet these categories are also useful to set goals and to distinguish between skill levels in real life.

In the notoriously dangerous imaginative game “Dungeons and Dragons,” as in many more recent video-based adventure games, there are systems for quantifying the skills a character has achieved at a given point in time. These levels of competence serve a similar function in a less exact way. The difference is that the skills under consideration are not necessarily a game. Some could be related to a game, like playing cards or baseball, but I’m more interested in practical skills like the ones I’ve mentioned above. If someone breaks into my house in the dead of night while my family is sleeping, I think the skills required to stop the threat of that hostile criminal are more important than the ability to play second base. That’s my opinion, anyway.

The fifth category describes those who are unconsciously competent. They have reached a level of skill in which they don’t even have to think about what they are doing. They act and react appropriately with minimal effort. In a true defensive situation, Front Sight says we are about half as good as we would be in a training situation. That sounds reasonable. Sometimes you hear soldiers, law enforcement, or others interviewed after some crisis, saying that they can’t really take credit for their heroic performance. Their training just took over, and saved the day. That’s the kind of unconscious competence that anyone might need in an emergency.

How might one apply these categories to our spiritual lives? Ah, this is a dangerous question, but with the proper skills, we can still address it safely. It’s dangerous because these categories are centered around our own abilities and skills, which can never be adequate to do what is necessary in spiritual life. Romans 8:7 says, “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” No amount of training can enable us to keep God’s commandments, because our natural disposition is always to break them. (When the civil laws and their enforcement do not hold people in check, it’s this rebellious and wicked nature in mankind that may require us to defend our families and neighbors.)

Instead of applying these categories to spiritual competence, we might think of them in terms of certainty or comfort. Some people are intentionally uncertain about their salvation. We often call them agnostics. Many are unconsciously uncertain, probably because they are preoccupied with other, less weighty concerns.
Some are consciously uncertain. When the Holy Spirit works through the Law to accuse the conscience of a person, that person becomes uncertain of his salvation, and consciously realizes that he needs certainty. The way to certainty is not through training or practice in skills (as Buddhism and many other religions would say), but by repentance and the declaration of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Some are consciously certain of their salvation, or consciously comforted. They are consciously aware of why they have joy through each day, even in the midst of suffering. This awareness brings them back again and again to receive the divine gift of forgiveness and the tangible assurances that our Savior provides of His favor and our future with Him in heaven. I think this state is the one we should all desire.

Finally, some are unconsciously certain of their salvation. I think that this state would be detrimental, because the sinful flesh will easily lead such a person to neglect, ignore, and even despise the external spiritual gifts of God, thinking that they are not needed. In time, the certainty of salvation through Christ would be replaced by a certainty of salvation without Christ, which is not true at all. Such a person would need to review God’s requirements of our lives in thought, word, and deed, in order to be reminded that he daily has many damning sins to repent, and consequently has a continuing need to receive God’s forgiveness.

If you have any thoughts about these things, they are welcome.

One thought on “Levels of Competence (updated)

  1. You may not apply these to salvation, but you could apply them to catechesis. Lutherans who are consciously incompetent. Unconsciously incompentent. Unconsciously competent? Sounds a bit like “hiding the Word away in your heart” to me.

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