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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Imprisonment in the Cave: An Expanded Version

In addressing the challenge of expertise, we are pushed as professional coaches to an even more challenging perspective. The allegory offered by Socrates (through the voice of Plato) is actually much more extensive than the versions I just offered. Plato provides us with more detail about life inside the cave and about what might occur if one cave dweller is allowed to step outside the cave and then returns to the cave. Profound implications regarding coaching and expertise emerge from this expanded version–and further questions arise about the role to be played by a professional coach in addressing these implications regarding reality and expertise with their client.

Inside the cave, its inhabitants (as prisoners) are chained so that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them and not look around the cave, Behind the prisoners is the fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway with a low wall. People walk behind the wall so that their bodies do not cast shadows for the prisoners to see, but the objects they carry do. Prisoners cannot see any of this behind them and are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them. The sounds of the people talking echo off the shadowed wall, and the prisoners falsely believe these sounds come from the shadows. This is not a very pleasant setting in which to dwell. Some residents seek to leave the cave. There are dreams of liberation that occupy cave dwellers at night and that are to be found in narratives shared (often whispered) among these people.

What happens when dreams are realized, and narratives are aligned with reality? What happens when one of these people is unchained and leaves the cave, discovering that the world is something more than the shadows they have always assumed were reality—that it is filled with many contradictory belief systems. This single prisoner (that we will call the protagonist) is freed, being forced to turn and see the fire and then forced (allowed) to leave the cave and confront the outside, ironic light directly. The light would hurt their eyes and make it hard for them to see the objects that are casting the shadows. They would not believe it if they were told that what they saw before was not rea. Instead, the objects they are now struggling to see are real.

Our protagonist would be angry and in pain, and this would only worsen when the radiant light of the sun overwhelms their eyes and blinds them. The sunlight is representative of the new reality and knowledge that the freed prisoner is experiencing. Slowly, her eyes adjust to the light of the sun. Gradually, the former prisoner can see the reflections of people and things in water and then later see the people and things themselves. Plato continues, saying that the freed prisoner would think that the real world was superior to the world they experienced in the cave. Our protagonist would feel blessed for the change, pity the other prisoners, and want to bring their fellow cave dwellers out of the cave and into the sunlight

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