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Plato’s Cave Allegory & The Secret Power of Coaches

By May 29, 2022June 5th, 2022No Comments
To this day, Philosophy is frowned upon as a go-nowhere practice, meaningless in our current society and impossible to monetize. Plato (~427 – 347 BC) faced the same kind of sentiments in his day – so severely that he lost his teacher Socrates to a death sentence in 399 BC for rocking the boat a little too hard with his ruminations about Life, the Universe and Everything.
Plato seemed to take a great deal of wisdom from this tragedy and managed to escape the same fate while not turning his back on the practice of Philosophy. What he learned from Socrates he encapsulated in his famous Cave Allegory – a story that is, at least in part, designed to explain the utility of Philosophy and the safest way to practice it.

Plato’s Cave Allegory

There was once a community of people who lived deep inside a cave, the reasons for which were lost generations before. They lived by firelight, and knew nothing of the outside world except for the shadows that would sometimes appear on the walls from the far distant mouth of the cave. The community scrutinized the shadows, squabbled over what they meant, and eventually a consensus was formed. A unified belief structure was created around them and these beliefs were then passed down from generation to generation.
The mystery of the shadows, in other words, had been solved.
That was until one of the more curious members of the community set out to discover the source of the shadows. He hiked towards the mouth of the cave for hours, climbing and squeezing through tight spots until finally he arrived at the blindingly-bright exit.
Once his eyes adjusted, he was astounded at what he saw. A whole separate world above ground – with plants, and animals, a wide open sky and the warm rays of the sun. He realized the cave was only a single part of a much larger reality, and he could see that the shadows cast into the cave were just mere representations of what lived in the world above. 
When he recovered from his shock, he rushed back into the cave to share his discovery with the community. When he arrived at their camp, he was frantic with excitement, and insisted to his fellow cave-dwellers that everything they believed to be true was actually a lie
Confronted with this assertion, the community accused the curious man of insanity. When he persisted, they killed him for his audacity to challenge everything they believed in and knew to be true.

The Moral of the Story

It is not a coincidence that the curious cave-dweller ultimately shared the same fate as Plato’s teacher, Socrates. The curious man was, in fact, correct about the nature of reality, but it did not matter. He was outnumbered by people who were entrenched in their understanding of the universe, and how correct he was or was not is ultimately irrelevant. This is because people cannot merely be told what the truth is – they must see it for themselves in order for them to believe it.
If the curious man had led a few community members to the mouth of the cave to see for themselves, he could have spared himself an untimely death.

People cannot merely be told what the truth is – they must see it for themselves in order for them to believe it.

Ironically, Socrates was known for his ability to guide others towards enlightenment by asking questions rather than making assertions. This is known as the Socratic method, and it is very effective. Perhaps too effective in Socrates’ case, as his crimes that sentenced him to death included impiety – in other words, diverging from the status quo – and the corruption of the young. His ability to help others see the larger picture and to question the nature of their reality threatened the majority, who had already decided what the nature of reality was, and should be.
In creating this allegory, Plato has shown us that the usefulness of Philosophy is having the courage to seek the bigger picture, so that we may expand our understanding of our existence. For all we know, we’re living in a proverbial cave, and if we only became more curious, we might find our way to a paradise instead. 

The Secret Power of Coaches

The power of coaching does not lie in one’s ability to prescribe a path for someone else. It lies in asking powerful questions that will help people find their inner truth. Coaches are facilitators for growth, but they cannot grow on their client’s behalf. The secret is in helping people to find their own way, to see the truth first-hand so they will trust in what they find. Coaches show their clients what is possible – patiently, thoughtfully, and with enough time, effort and collaboration, effectively
When clients find the answers to what they want, who they are, and what matters most, the coach role shifts into one of trusted partner – helping to remind clients of the path they chose and reinforcing the discoveries they have made about themselves. In this way, clients form new patterns, world views, and habits that work in their service, rather than against it.
Coaches are a guide to the mouth of the cave, and walk with you as you emerge into a new landscape.