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Photo by Hye Chong Doss, HCD Action Photography

Beware of the Self-proclaimed Expert

Investing time, money, and lives in the hands of ill-qualified “experts” can be a fatal mistake. In this three-part editorial, Wes Doss helps us with some best practices for selecting who you want to train with.

Megalomania (meg·a·lo·ma·nia):
A mental disorder characterized by delusions of grandeur, wealth, power, etc. (2.) a tendency to exaggerate.

Webster’s New World Dictionary, 3rd College Edition

Training is without a doubt the most important tool we have to prime ourselves for the realities of the world. It prepares us to perform our jobs and to win in the most precarious of situations, at least it’s supposed to. Training, by design, is intended to provide an authoritative foundation for both the individual and the team, as any organization, regardless of size or mission must be trained and ready at all times to protect lives, deter violent actions, control disturbances, and to terminate unique situations under some very austere conditions.

This need for training and preparation demands that training be organized set to standards and that all personnel involved in training understand, attain, sustain, and enforce those standards. To fully prepare and develop an individual or team, tough, realistic training designed to challenge the participants must occur and take place at all levels to represent a near ideal situation; however, the reality for many individuals and organizations is another story. To supplement, or sometimes compensate, their own training and experience, a great number of people rely on the numerous commercial trainers and training organizations that exist today. Most of these training professionals come from a competent pool of seasoned veterans, many with significant military and law enforcement history, teaching from a foundation of practical experience and knowledge, unfortunately many more do not. There are those “elite experts” who base their skills from the books they’ve read, the videos they’ve watched or the classes of others they’ve attended, having never been in nor witnessed a high-risk situation, yet they “teach” systems that are supposed to equip a individuals with the tools to prevail in life threatening situations. This is similar to a virgin teaching a class on sex (Dimitri, 2000). Investing time, money, and lives in the hands of ill-qualified “experts” can be a fatal mistake.

Throughout history and across all cultures there have always been those who will go the extra mile to be seen and heard, convincing others to share their views. These individuals were often motivated by the socio-political climate of the times and pursued positive change, the early foundations of our own country saw many individuals step forward and seek the open, impressionable ears of their fellow citizens. Convincing many, who would not otherwise, to rebel against England and ultimately to wage war for their freedom. However, there have also been those who were solely motivated by the all mighty dollar and their own conceit, possessing a need to be considered the supreme authority on a particular topic. These fabricated authorities have always had a knack for being able to exploit two very human traits, needing to impose our convictions on others and allowing others to influence our actions. These two elements of human behavior have been a part of our species since we came into existence and are as strong today as they were the day we slithered forth from the primordial ooze and stood erect on our hind legs.

We have developed into a society highly dependent on the immediacy of information provided by the internet and other outlets, causing us to lose our minds when we can’t get a cell signal or the internet goes down, this has given us not only greater access to the world, but it has also allowed the self-anointed experts out there to reach out and find greater audiences and influence many that they would not ordinarily have access to. The days of early printing, moveable type, and the pony express are pale in comparison to the modern industry of today. There are newsstands and store shelves in every sector of our society, offering a choice of every conceivable topic. This broad distribution of information has seen even more energy with the invention of the Internet. Among the self help videos, romance novels, and the great works lays the great American magazine rack. No other country on the face of the earth has the widespread offerings of periodicals and videos as the United States, sometimes we buy them at bookstores, sometimes we buy them in grocery stores, and sometimes we get them in our mail boxes. Regardless of the source, Americans buy a lot of magazines and watch a lot of media. In the area of law enforcement and military topics there aren’t as many offerings as say, beauty, fashion, or fly casting, but those that are available generally do an excellent job of providing an objective arena for the exchange of information. Unfortunately, they have also been a launch pad for an incredible number of self-anointed experts, eager to share their views, sell their products, and take your money. While some have gone on to great fame and fortune, there are those low expectation folks who have used these mediums to become the well-known “in-house” experts that are so common to many organizations. Unfortunately, these folks tend to be the ones that inexperienced administrators turn to for counsel on training issues.

The later part of the 20th century brought a veritable explosion of “expertise” to the world of tactics and use of force training. Never have so many specialists, real or otherwise, made so many claims concerning their expertise and knowledge in regards to the reality of high-risk situations. Many of these individuals have gone that extra mile to see that their opinion is well known and their pockets are well lined. One only needs to peruse the advertisements on the Internet or in the back of any popular magazine, to get a classic example of this phenomenon. Usually in bold print with vivid photographs, are ads claiming to teach techniques that are exclusive to one of many special operations organizations. Advertisements alleging to be “founders” or “creators” of techniques and styles that will turn the meek into super warriors. These ads are usually accompanied by an impressive, but unbelievable, list of titles, credentials, and comments made by students who, for “National Security reasons”, must remain anonymous.

Assuming that I have stirred something inside you, you’re probably wondering what motivates a person to craft such a lampoon of a subject that is so serious. If you’re one of the many legitimate trainers out there, you’re probably a little embarrassed at the farce produced by these self-proclaimed experts.

Most serious trainers, I mean individuals that have really been there and experienced what they teach, show a great deal of contempt for such gross contentions and for the egotistical, money hungry people that make them. I majored in criminal justice throughout college, except for a brief tour of duty studying pharmacology, so my grasp of psychology is limited. However, I would venture to say that their claims are attributed to some desire to appeal to the more adolescent-minded members of their intended audience or marketplace. These are usually the folks who have little or no practical experience in tactics or use of force application, thus making them easy prey.

This is a multi-part editorial.
Click here to read “Beware of the Self-Proclaimed Expert: Part II”.

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