In the book, The Republic, written by Plato, performed by Socrates, are many timeless truths that need to be heard. In book VII, Plato offers us an allegory that couldn’t be more relevant today for our society as a whole.
An allegory is a story with a hidden meaning. The most interesting allegories are those that touch on the lightness of human nature and who we are at our core. Plato does an excellent job at explaining the human condition.
The Republic, Book VII’s Story
I will set the scene for you in simplistic terms – four prisoners are left facing a wall in a cave.
They were born here and may very well die here; they face the dark wall in the back of the cave, but behind them is a fire that illuminates their shadows in front of them.
Now everyday, people hold up sculptures of animals and people as to give the illusion of “real” things going by behind the fire. The prisoners are chained up so that they cannot move.
They see their own shadows and the shadows of others, but they do not know exactly what those black figures represent.
One day someone frees one of the prisoners, he feebly gets on his feet, and then turns around and he sees, for the first time, the fire behind him. He rubs his eyes repeatedly, trying to adjust to the new phenomenon.
His eyes rustle and try to make sense of it all. After becoming more adjusted, he is lead to go outside, to walk the steps that will lead to life. He reaches the top steps and he cannot imagine what this extreme light is – for he has never seen such an environment. What he sees, he cannot have imagined, the beauty of life is too profound for his budding senses.
He was seeing through narrows prisms of partial truths, an illusion that was made his reality. His whole life has been nothing but a farce – the only truth he had ever known was now to be a lie. He had much exploring and learning to do, fascinated with everything and anything.
“Are not most truths no more than mere opinions persuaded pervasively as to become seemingly perpetual and stagnant?” – Nicholas J. Piva
He decided, after many days to go back into the cave and tell his fellow prisoners about what he had seen. He began to speak and they laughed. They thought he was a madman.
The prisoners see only one side of the many perspectives and are too enclosed in their paradigm to see the truth in others.
They were grown into this standard of what life is about and any deviation of what they thought was folly in their eyes. But to he, the enlightened one, his past truths are now follies, while the chained remain stationary in thought.
This man, who is now liberated by the mind’s fabrication will go up and explore what the others don’t even realize is there.
The others will remain stagnantly arrogant, believing in realities that are in actuality only opinions masqueraded as truth by their collective thought.
“Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” – Plato
The allegory is about thinking for yourself and never becoming blinded by the communal misguidedness of other people.
In life, there will be many people opposing every decision you make. Well, newsflash, your life is not democracy. You are in control. Some people are absolutely blind by their current situation. They will never see things differently. They prefer self-chosen ignorance over thinking beyond themselves.
I fear that what the great philosopher was talking about back then is apparent today. People are trapped by dogma; they fear to venture out and charter their own path, they rejoice in folly only because they are too scared to create anew.
Human beings like to belong. Even if the their intuition is telling them it’s wrong or that their may be a better way, they stay quiet. No one wants to be chastised for believing differently than the overriding opinion.
That is, except for life’s mavericks – the one’s who are not afraid to think for themselves. The ones who develop a vision for their life and never stop working on it. No matter the opposition or negativity they will inevitable encounter along the way.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs
Most people only see one side of the spectrum – go to school, get good grades, find a great job and aim for hearty pension and then die. Only five people I know have profound dreams. And for those who sporadically have those type of dreams, they usually whither and die by the uniformity of thought our world calls for.
We have all been brought up within a certain reality, or a way in which things are supposed to happen – society hammers down, along with your parents and friends a certain path. They proclaim deviation will lead to failure and failure is not in the book for success. But what happens if their perspective of failure is another’s success, vice-versa?
Instead of obsequiously listening and adhering to dogma, one should venture out and create his or her own path. This world may promote what is the “right way”, but as we can tell from history and the ideas of the “greats”, there is no right way. All of the greats have different ideas and philosophies to live by in order to be righteous in their way of living. There is no one true way.
So do yourself a favor, live by your own accord and don’t be upset if those around you fail to see the beauty in your journey.
Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses. – Plato
Program your mind in such a way so that you are open and not the least bit arrogant. Understand life for what it really is – a chance to be, to create, to do, to experience and to love. It will inevitably be difficult to charter your own path, but with persistence, excellent things are bound to happen.
The only thing that is stagnant throughout all the ‘right ways’ of living is to develop a vision for yourself and work towards it. Progress towards your vision is the key to an abundant live, and that vision is different for everyone of us. You must find your own and stay true to yourself.