In keeping with Damasio’s metaphor, I suggest that the party is at one level a quite lonely affair. We must acknowledge that when we take action midst relativism, the decision is ours alone. Our decision is not an “unconscious” conformity to social norms or an uncritical embrace of a widely held social construction. We are stepping outside the cave—even if it is just for a moment—and can’t help but feel a bit lonely in taking this action. At another level, our party is being held with several invited guests. So we are no alone in our commitment to action. We bring along the wisdom of our body (the neurobiological substratum), our memories, and our intense awareness of where we are situated right now (even if outside the cave). These guests of consciousness not only provide us with guidance, they also (in their own integration through feelings) provide us with a bridge between mind and body: “The classic void that has separated physical bodies from mental phenomena is naturally bridged thanks to feelings.” (Damasio, 2021, p.122) We are thus not only challenged in the commitments we make in the midst of relativism, but also rewarded by being provided with a feeling-based bridge that the engagement of both thought (relativism) and action (commitment) uniquely provide.
There is a second important point to be derived from Damasio’s exploration of consciousness. He (Damasio, 2021, 136) describes the state of “enrichment” that comes with consciousness:
In my proposal consciousness is an enriched state of mind. The enrichment consists in inserting additional elements of mind within the ongoing mind process. These additional mind elements are largely cut from the same cloth as the rest of the mind—they are imagetic—but thanks to their contents they announce firmly that all the mental contents to which I currently have access belong to me, are my thing, are actually unfolding within my organism. The addition is revelatory.
Thus, in my commitment, I am at once alone and surrounded by imagetic guests from my own mind. I suggest that under such conditions, I am a source of valuable wisdom –and expertise—within the cave where I dwell with other members of my society. Now, can I find a way to make this wisdom and expertise welcomed by others who live with me in our cave?
I return one last time to the Platonic Cave. Can it get even more challenging in the cave? Can we add more complexity to Plato’s allegory? Living in the mid-21st Century, perhaps we are actually living in a cave that has multiple openings which offer many contradictory images. There may be multiple shadows on the wall of the cave, each shadow being a partial image of the outside world (with the image being selectively blocked at each opening).
Furthermore, there may be multiple and even contradictory interpretations of each partial shadow being projected on the wall in front of us (and to our side and even behind us). We face not just multiple and contradictory messages embedded in the shadows but also contradictory interpretations of what these messages mean. This is a truly ironic world! What a remarkable cave this would be – a bit like traveling down one of the major boulevards in Las Vegas surrounded by glittering casinos, with each one encouraging us to enter their own unique fantastic reality.
It would seem that the openings in this 21st Century cave may even be coming and going. One closes down while another one opens up. This venture into Plato’s cave and our redesign of this cave provokes many coaching and consulting questions. These questions inevitably surface organizational and leadership challenges and deeply personal concerns regarding integrity, trust and honesty. I have addressed many of these challenges. However, it would be short-sighted of us not to also recognize the opportunities that this redesigned cave offers us.Download Article 1K Club