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Leadership: A Day in the Life of Plato’s Cave

June 28, 2011

“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” ~ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a story about consciousness. It’s about truth, and it’s about deception. It’s about how the mind interacts with the world. It’s about you. And it’s about me.

Close your eyes to imagine a world of no objects and no sun. Think about what it would be like being held captive since childhood, chained at the legs and neck, never allowed to move your head. Your existence is concentrated on the line of vision directly before you. This is the reality of the shadow world.

In Plato’s cave, prisoners may see their own shadow. Perhaps even the shadows of one another. But mostly, they see shadows of objects that are projected on the wall in front of them.

The ghost of Socrates might say these inmates are “feeling about in the darkness, they cannot distinguish the cause from the condition.” To these men, the truth is nothing more than shadows of the images. Forever mistaking and misnaming what their eyes are seeing and their mind believing.

The prisoners are unaware that behind them is the higher degree of reality of the fire and the statues that are casting the shadows. Still further up is the steep and rugged passage out of the cave to the upper world. A prisoner who follows this path will encounter the world of real objects and the sun.

Free will offers differing levels of mind awareness. Some choose a path to enlightenment. Others prefer unconsciousness to consciousness. The truth can be unpleasant. It’s safe to retreat to what’s familiar. The truth is a choice.

Our capacity to choose truth over shadows changes constantly with our practice of life. Each step in life which increases self-confidence, integrity, courage and conviction also increases our capacity to make distinctions between reality and shadows. The principles of right action and divine order govern life.

One of the most striking facts about the human condition is the paradox of not being able to see our own face, only the faces of others. And yet, the face is the most identifiable part of our existence. Mirrors distort. They characterize shadows. It’s reasonable to conclude we can only see parts of our true identity in the faces of the company we keep.

Plato, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Kafka and many others spoke to the dual nature of reality. One is temporary, and resides in the moment. The other is permanent and lies beyond this one. This point is particularly noteworthy in our dealings with others. People of the lie tend to live in the moment. Nothing else seems to matter. It should.

Emanuel Kant suggests a supposed right to lie. To which, Friedrich Nietzsche complains: “the problem is not that you lied to me, but that I no longer believe you.” Personal level deception holds no promise. Corrupt and compromised relationships reflect lies.

Deception does have its place in the world of politics and business. Sun-tzu recommends the use of “expendable spies” to spread disinformation. It’s effective. And it’s important on matters such as national security and corporate survival.

Speed to market is the ultimate competitive weapon. Deception can get you there. At best, the lifespan of spies and other forms of covert activities are time limited. When the scam is uncovered, spies are terminated. That’s the deal.

If you remember only one thing, Plato’s Cave is about leadership.

The bottom line is: Leaders know the difference between reality and shadows. They have the ability to see the challenge, and the solution, from every angle. Assumptions are justified. Others are persuaded to take a leap of faith. Implementation focuses on interpersonal dynamics and power and influence and building social networks. Feedback effects and longer-term consequences are measured.

Truth is the single highest value in a person’s belief system. In a world of claims, assertions, declarations, and affirmations, there is only one truth. Find it, articulate it, and never, ever take it for granted.

The law of life is the law of belief. Once you uncover the truth, never believe the shadows again.


Follow me on Twitter @johnanthonypain


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