Laws of nature do not guarantee that human cohabitation thrives. Rather, the success of our living together is widely based on acquired cultural skills. Everyone who enters this world is reliant on elders to receive food, clothing, shelter, language, meaning, and the conveyance of basic social rules. Thus, we gradually become autonomous persons who are able to find our way in the world, nourish others in turn and accompany younger people into cohabitation.
For a long time it has been assumed that mothers and others who were forced into „private spheres“—more often women than men—would care for the needs of small children and pass on to them the basic competencies of human coexistence without public acknowledgement or recognition: the ability to care for oneself, to properly deal with one’s own shit, to peacefully handle conflicts, to ask for forgiveness, to keep promises, to be patient and grateful, to prepare simple meals, and so on.
In the patriarchal symbolic order, which notoriously confuses the primary and secondary, the basic knowledge of one’s own language, of morality, of housekeeping and of orderly coexistence are assumed to be natural, inborn abilities. They are seen as the obvious requirements for those competences that were later acquired through processes of formal schooling, arbitrated by states or markets. Consequently, these secondary capabilities are seen as the socially relevant competences – these are sometimes overestimated. Foreign language skills, general school knowledge, specialized technical knowledge and similar skills are often falsely understood as „fundamental” and are most of the time well rewarded. This faulty valuation often leads to problems and an overburdening of those who are expected to continue to sustain the basics of human cohabitation silently and invisibly.
The concept „competence of existence“ illuminates and recalls that secondary skills can only be acquired when people have already been equipped with the capability to carry themselves sensibly in the human web of relations.