Credibility occupies my mind these past few weeks. It started when someone I know posted a video where the speaker claimed to be an ‘expert’ and rattled off a fancy title to make him sound more credible. This “senior fellow” received his title at an “institute”, but when you look up the institute, you find out that the organization is a non-profit that specializes in research for policy change. In other words, they’re lobbyists. Due to this ‘expert’ making claims about the ‘fall of men’ that had everything to do with the attempts of women receiving equality, I found myself scoffing and readily dismissing this person’s expertise.
I love looking at definitions, so let’s look at the definition of credibility.
noun | cred·i·bil·i·ty ˌkre-də-ˈbi-lə-tē
1: the quality or power of inspiring belief
an account lacking in credibility
2: capacity for belief
Her account exceeds credibility.
Now let’s look at authority:
noun | au·thor·i·ty ə-ˈthȯr-ə-tē ȯ-, -ˈthär-
1 a: power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior
the president’s authority
b: freedom granted by one in authority : RIGHT
Who gave you the authority to do as you wish?
2 a: persons in command, specifically : GOVERNMENT
the local authorities of each state
b : a governmental agency or corporation to administer a revenue-producing public enterprise
the transit authority
the city’s housing authority
3 a: GROUNDS, WARRANT
had excellent authority for believing the claim
b: convincing force
lent authority to the performance
4 a(1) : a citation (as from a book or file) used in defense or support
(2): the source from which the citation is drawn
He quoted extensively from the Bible, his sole authority.
b(1): a conclusive statement or set of statements (such as an official decision of a court)
(2): a decision taken as a precedent
C: an individual cited or appealed to as an expert
The prosecutor called the psychiatrist as an authority.
It’s important to point out that definitions are descriptive vs prescriptive; that is, dictionaries define words according to how the word is used or commonly understood (descriptive), rather than HOW IT MUST BE USED (prescriptive). Language changes all the time and so too will the definition of words. Having these definitions help me understand what it is that I’m trying to argue, or wrap my head around, etc.
My personal crusade involves an attempt to shift cultural attitudes towards police and prisons to eliminate the need for such institutions. I came upon this ideology through reading materials from a variety of what I consider to be credible sources – academics, scholars, journalists, historical figures. Through their analysis and citing of sources, and through my own understanding of what it means to be human, I concluded that the people I chose to listen to are not only credible but an authority on the subject. Most of the people I learned from have doctorates degrees or in the process of getting one.
And then there’s me: a self-described nobody. I have an undergraduate degree in Japanese language that is relatively useless. I hold no special titles. I’ve done little in the way of volunteer work. What little credibility I did have I squandered and am now trying to rebuild from the ground up. And yet I attend city council meetings and speak with an authority that I know I don’t truly have.
Why listen to me? Because I read non-fiction books? Because I engage with peer-reviewed academic literature? That perhaps one of these days I’ll go into even more debt to return to school to earn another degree that may lead to some sort of credibility and authority? I have said, and will continue to say, that I am not the one anyone should be listening to. I try my best – with fluctuating results – to amplify those who do have more credibility and authority than me. That is the best I can do at the moment. Yet I know I shouldn’t be so ready to dismiss myself just because I don’t have the white supremacist colonial ideal of holding a position of authority or earning a higher ed degree to have credibility. However, this is the reality and word I live in; this is how most people operate.
So what do I do? What should I do? I suppose we all got to start somewhere, and if right now I use my little space on the internet to analyze culture, books, scholarly work, etc., it may lead to something more grand.
My biggest question – being the little peon I feel that I am in this big huge world – is how and why do I try to gain credibility while at the same time feeling like I get to readily dismiss those who also do not have it. Mr. Senior Fellow at blahblah Institute claims to be credible expert, and yet I, a person who holds no titles, feel like I somehow have enough critical thinking skills to dismantle this person’s claims. I think about the people who hold opposing views, whose reality is different from mine, who use their power/authority/credibility to dehumanize entire groups of people who look/act differently from them. Am I “better” than them for having more compassion, more willingness to look past transgressions, in order to see people as full human beings? While I try to build a world that eliminates hierarchy, am I not engaging in the same type of building of hierarchy? “I am more credible than you! Therefore the words that come out of my mouth holds more weight than yours.” Sounds like hierarchy to me.
Is this all just another existential crisis? Of course it is. This is where I dwell. Until I somehow gain confidence and/or authority and/or credibility in this realm of building new worlds in order to destroy harmful institutions, I will continue to ponder my place in this grand ol’ universe.