Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving In Over Our Heads: Living and Learning in the Cave

In Over Our Heads: Living and Learning in the Cave

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In Over Our Heads

Keeping the metaphor (and challenges) of Plato’s cave in mind, let’s once again bring the cave into our 21st Century world and consider how we address challenges associated with our coaching client’s encounter with experts that reside both inside the cave and outside the client’s personal and organizational cave.

It is first important for a professional coach to help their clients recognize that the world inside their cave (both personal and organization) is complex and confusing. We must assist our clients (and recognize in our own life and work) identify cave-related issues that exist at several different levels.

At one level, we are dealing with multiple senses of self. During the 1990s, Ken Gergen wrote a quite prophetic book (that was updated in 2001: Gergen, 2001): The Saturated Self. Gergen identified challenges we face in defining who we really are. Traditionally, our personal identity was defined by the family of birth and the community in which we were raised. As Tevye notes in the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, it is all about tradition! Our place in the world is pre-assigned and we live within the boundaries of a specific place and time. The struggle for Tevye concerns the desire of his daughters to break out of these boundaries—particularly in their choice of husbands. Gergen is suggesting that not only are there fewer pre-assigned identities (at least in most Western societies), there also are a massive number of alternative identities from which to choose.

Given the inundation of advertisements via many different media—and the many experts who are available to “assist” us by offering us their own interpretations of reality, we don’t know which identity to choose. Are we going to be the most interesting man in the world or the glamorous but troubled teen- age star? At a more mundane level, are we going to be the corporate accountant or independent store owner? What about the trade-off between a life devoted to family and a life devoted to career—we certainly see appeals to both priorities on our TV and computer screens. Experts tell us to “follow our bliss” What does this “bliss” look like and how do we find it? We are saturated with alternative identities and must try repeatedly to discern which of these identities is authentic or at least aligned with our decisions and actions. We live in a world of competing and often contradictory identities—a world of irony.

I will take Gergen’s analysis a little bit further and return once more to Plato’s insightful allegory about the cave. I will further explore what it is like to live in this cave and will then redesign the cave to make it (from my perspective) more closely aligned with our 21st Century world—and frankly with the life most of us are now leading and, in particular, the lives being led by the men and women we coach.

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