The parable of the cave

File:Platon Cave Sanraedam 1604.jpg

(Borrowed from )

I was sitting in a car yesterday, driving into the countryside of Denmark along with some family, when I found today’s words. I was flicking through a book of  leadership theory (Theory U) when I “accidentally” landed upon a story.

A story, which I once told to a small group of people on the island of St. Croix. I’d had this idea of having an evening of storytelling (I was dead-scared to do it, though) and the story was to be about realizing who or what we truly are, about the importance of following our dreams. That was when a thought about Plato’s parable of the cave found me.

Plato’s parable of the cave goes something like this:

Imagine a cave where prisoners are chained to a wall and  have been so since childhood. Not only their limbs are chained, but also their heads. Making it impossible for them to look anywhere else than toward the blank wall  in front of them. Behind the prisoners there’s an enormous fire. Between the fire and the prisoners there’s an elevated pathway where people carry figures of animals, plants and other things through the cave. On the blank wall , in front of the prisoners, these figures become shadows. Shadows which the prisoners become intensely occupied with.

The prisoners become occupied in something that could seem like a game, from our point of view, giving the figures names, as they appear on the wall. However, this game is the only reality the prisoners know eventhough they are just watching shadows of things. Not the things themselves.   

Assume that one of the prisoners are freed and forced to stand up and turn around. His or her eyes will be blinded by the light from the fire, and the figures that pass in front of him or her wil look less real that their shadows on the wall.  The same thing will happen if he or she comes out of the cave into the sunlight, where he or she will be blinded. But then, the freed person will be able to see the darkest forms, as for example shadows, and then he /she will be able to see lighter and clearer objects. The last thing the free person will be able to see, is the Sun. And in time this person will understand that it is this which creates the seasons, the wheel of the year. It is this that reigns all things and too it is the cause of all the things seen.

The enlightened, freed prisoner will then without a doubt want to return to the cave to free his fellow men. The problem is that they do not wish to be free. When the freed one descends into the cave his eyes will have to adjust to the darkness and for a while he’ll be worse at the ridiculous game of recognizing the forms on the wall.

“Wouldn’t it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it’s not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead them up, wouldn’t they kill him?” From Plato’s “The Republic”. (517a)

How do we free ourselves from the shadows (the endless thought “figures”) that keep us from seeing the vast landscape up in the sunlight, the infinite possibilities of our lives?

We begin by redirection our vision. By looking inwardly. We begin by asking ourselves the question: what do I dream about?  

Because every dream is worth the fight. Those who do not dare to follow their dreams will risk nothing, but they will not win anything, either.

(Sketch borrowed from )


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