Back to the Cave Again

In the Republic, Plato gives us his “allegory of the cave”. Prisoners who are chained to their spots underground see only images flickering on the wall. They have no other reality. They are shown shadows of puppets without dimensions, without substance. Our poor little creatures know nothing else of life.

And then we imagine one day, one is led out into the sun. He adjusts himself to the daylight and with it, deeper truths and rich possibilities. He then goes back again to the cave to try to tell the unbelievers what he has seen. They resist. They fight, thinking he is naive or gone insane.

Plato’s allegory speaks to so much in our lives.  Maybe it is our experience at work. Or maybe it is what we encounter with our neighbors or friends. At some point along the line, we have seen the beautiful, we’ve seen the rich and wondrous things that life can offer. We invite others in and yet are redirected to empty shadows on the cavern walls. In so many ways, it’s as if we have been let loose from our tether, got to glimpse what the world can really be like, and then were brought back again to our chains. Tied to a stone again so that we can see nothing, but the dark, flat silhouettes.

The story is as existential and absurd as anything by Kafka or Kierkegaard. And yet, for the right reader, it is a story of hope.

We must do something to overcome the dissonance. A little girl watches Father Knows Best, or wanders every Sunday to the church on the corner, and sees a world so different than her home.  It is all the proof she needs of another reality toward which to keep moving. It is all the proof she needs, that others too can share in a richer, more wholesome reality – kinder, more gentle, limitless.

Face-to-face with the incongruent and absurd, there is nothing we can do except embrace, fight like hell to change what we can, and then embrace some more.


©2017 John Albert Doyle, Jr.

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