Confronting Hard Truths and Emerging From Plato's Cave
When confronted with a hard truth, what do most of us do? What should most of us do? If you are unfamiliar with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave you can see an excellent breakdown of it below from The School of Life. And while this metaphor is often seen as applying to visionaries within a society, we can also see it as a more abstract tale of how our minds work.
Like any high-functioning computer, our brains seek to find patterns that will aide in simplifying future work. It is natural that they gravitate towards repetitive thought patterns and that they feel safer when experiencing events previously experienced and understood. The process of thinking moves along much quicker when we can readily accept the given definitions of objects and ideas, and primal survival instincts predispose us to value quick decision making.
So when an event or person brings to light a different interpretation, a different definition of what a long held idea could mean, it is to be expected that the mind will hesitate, and experience agitation/friction/Resistance, before accepting this new definition as possibe fact.
As a person participating in modern society, we cannot shield ourselves from the multitude of ideas we are barraged with daily, each piece often challenging some small notion we hold in its own way. But once we are made aware of something, the thought cannot be un-known. So the mind, in its primitive state long ago, devised its own defenses: When difficult new information is brought into the light, we can choose simply to stay in the shadows, and ignore the light until we once again become distracted by something down in the cave.
And perhaps this is why so many of us prefer to spend our lives in the cave; it can be easier than getting used to the light. We can know something is out there, but choose not to understand its meaning, rendering it useless to us, and, thus, of no further concern.
Unless we consciously choose not to, we will spend most of our lives hiding from hard truths. Not out of malice or lack of character, but because that is what a mind on autopilot will do. This is most true when it comes to information and ideas we “know” about ourselves. These are the beliefs we find hardest to change, or even identify, because they are a part of what comprises our functioning self.
Quare vitia sua nemo confitetur? Quia etiam nunc illis est; somnium narrare, vigilantis est. (Seneca, Ep., 53)
The truth is all there is. The sun will shine whether you choose to stand in it or not. While some hide from it by fear or accident, there are some who go a step further, and actively work to build the most complex systems imaginable to purposely keep the truth out, or even distort it to more closely resemble something they can tolerate.
But this can only create a difference of perception, truth will always be what it is. And if we choose to alienate ourselves in this way, purposely creating a disconnect between our inner thoughts and our outer reality, we will alienate ourselves from everything around us, and it will not be possible to see things as they really are, with the true perception needed to make good decisions.
Fortunately, these contraptions can be taken down and discarded the moment we choose to do so. And the sun will still be shining on the other side, untouched by any effort of imaginative artifice.
So when we are confronted by a hard truth about ourselves, when our friend points out a detail that’s more on the nose than they realize, when the visionary returns to earth to share what she has seen, or when the philosopher returns from the Light to the Cave, why not listen?
It may take time to work over and accept, but through each piece of true information we learn to swallow, we grow in stature and peace of mind. Only true information can provide this nourishment. The world is a beautiful place, and there is nothing to fear once one develops the discipline to accept the things we’ve already seen to be true.
This musing inspired by the following readings:
24 Lies in 30 Minutes? -- for a currently relevant take on someone who seems to have some difficulties accepting the truth