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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We are thus removed three steps from reality. We believe that the shadows on Plato’s cave are “reality.” We don’t recognize that someone or something is standing between us and the fire and selectively determining which aspects of reality get projected onto the wall. Finally, someone else is situated inside the cave offering us a description and analysis.

Challenges of the Cave Increase

It gets even more challenging for many of us—as well as experts and the clients we are serving as professional coaches. First, there are now multiple fires burning in the cave and projecting multiple shadows on the wall. The so-called grand narrative (of Western European and American origins) which defined much of our reality during the 19th and 20th Century is now collapsing. We now have multiple, conflicting narratives that make it difficult for all but the most xenophobic people in the world to see only one set of shadows.

There is a second major change, with the advent of social media and reality television and with the purchase of goods and services directly from the source. We might now be moving back to a time when there are no “middle-men” or interpreters. The term disintermediation is being used to describe this potentially seismic change in our societal acquisition and framing of knowledge.

Regardless of the shifts now occurring in our world of knowledge, we seem to remain confused about what is “real” and often don’t trust our direct experience.  We are facing many contradictions—many of which I have described previously in this book. We move, with great reluctance (and considerable grieving), to a recognition that reality is being constructed for us and that we need to attend not only to the constructions, but also to the interests and motives of those who tend the fire and block images on the wall of the cave and those who offer us their interpretations.

An initial question might be posed given these changes: can professional coaches assist their clients in facing these challenges? Can coaches and consultants help their clients sort through the multiple narratives and deal with the disintermediation of images they are receiving? Can Plato’s cave provide us with the opportunity to gain insights in a coaching session about the nature of the cave? What about the world that is projected onto the walls of the cave, and the nature and agenda of the “expert” interpreters? Can we help our clients critically reflect on the views be provided to us by the “experts” who are interpreting shadows on the walls of the cave?

Can we take one step further with our coaching clients? Can we help our clients consider whether or not to step outside the cave? More fundamentally, can we actually leave the cave? How does the coach assist their client in this challenging endeavor? Is it safer to remain inside the cave then to venture outside? Should we (and can we) face the profound challenge of unmediated experiences? Is a coach truly being helpful if she invites their client to leave the cave? Should a coach help their clients recognize ways in which they still carry the cave shadows and cave interpreters with them when stepping outside the cave? As we step outside the cave, are we likely to confront some objective reality through our experience, or is the experience itself constantly shifting depending on setting, context, interpersonal relationships and the nature of our own past experience? Are we just moving to another cave?

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