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Qualify It
[12/11/2004] [Randall]

Language determines reality. It was with this in mind that I ranted back in 2002 about the way people talk about knighthood. You see, folks’d talk about how they were working towards knighthood, and the way they’d say it would grate on my nerves. “I’m qualified for my sword belt,” they’d say. This use of the possessive ‘my’ was the big problem, because it said something that wasn’t true. The belt wasn’t theirs. Since they talked about it like it was – or could be – even in a passive voice, they staked a claim to it. This meant there’d be heartache down the road when they didn’t get ‘their’ belt.

I’m not going to get into that rant again. Instead, let’s talk about the first part. The 'qualified' part.

Amtgard has a system of knighthood whereby you can qualify yourself for four separate belts. Once you have the prerequisites for any belt, as laid down by the corpora, you’re qualified for it. This means that whoever has the power to hand out knighthood in your kingdom – be it the king, the circle, the BOD or the newsletter – can now consider you. The system is further complicated because many kingdoms let the king give belts by fiat. In fact, some kingdoms require the king to give out belts at random, tossing them to the crowd like garters at a wedding. So it goes.

There’s also the whole idea that the guidelines laid down by the corpora are merely suggested qualifications. This is a great idea. It’s what almost every corpora actually says. It’s also not really functional in practice. Nobody talks about how they meet the suggested qualifications. They’re just qualified. For their belt.

So say you’re sitting on a masterhood, feeling very qualified. But what does that even mean? A quick look at the dictionary turns up two definitions:

  1. Fit, due to training or experience, for a given purpose or condition.
  2. Limited in some way.

Random knighting parties to the contrary, we will be dealing with the first definition.

If you say you’re qualified for a belt, then you should be fit to be a knight. If you’re fit, then there should be no question as to whether you should be a knight. After all, you’re fit, aren’t you? And if you’re fit, it’s just a matter of time until you get the belt wrapped around your waist. And heck, if someone gets the belt without the qualifications, does that make them unqualified to be a knight?

Of course, that isn’t how it goes. Amtgard is full of people who are supposedly qualified for the highest honor the game offers yet don’t have it. This means Amtgard is full of bitter people griping about how they don’t have their belt. This is a problem that could be solved if we just talked about things a little differently.

Instead of saying someone’s qualified, call ‘em eligible. Got a warmaster and a defender under your belt? You’re eligible for consideration by the circle and king for Knight of the Sword. Earned a Master Rose? You’re eligible for a flame belt. This isn’t perfect – a king could still knight a technically ‘ineligible’ candidate – but it removes the problem of wondering why someone who could be knighted isn’t being knighted.

As a secondary effect, by dividing people into categories of eligible and ineligible rather than qualified and unqualified, the language works in favor of limiting the power of kings. If there's an understanding that certain people aren't even eligible for consideration, this language creates a reality in which it's harder to bypass the circle. As it stands right now, we can say that we don't care if someone is unqualified -- knight him anyway! It's a lot harder -- and sounds a lot sillier -- to say that you don't care that someone is ineligible. The first sounds like you're knighting someone who doesn't deserve it. The second sounds like you're breaking the rules to knight someone. That's powerful stuff.

And we’d be able to say, “He’s eligible for the white belt, but he isn’t qualified.” Zing.

The only other choice is to just keep on talking about qualified candidates. . . with the understanding that some of 'em are fit to be knights, and some of 'em are just limited.

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