Home Concepts Organizational Theory Professional Coaching, Plato’s Cave and the Sociology of Knowledge

Professional Coaching, Plato’s Cave and the Sociology of Knowledge

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Today, most of us live in a world that is similar to that faced by our Vincentian colleagues: we live in a world that is becoming increasingly complex, unpredictable and turbulent. Turning back to Plato’s allegory, we live with an expanded cast of characters in the cave. First, there is something or someone standing near the fire in the cave. Part of the fire’s glow is blocked, thus limiting the shadow-images cast on the wall. The blocking feature can be a cultural or personal narrative that we absorb during our daily personal and collective lives. Narratives and perspectives block out some of the light coming from the fire in the cave. Not only don’t we actually see reality, there is something that determines which parts of objective reality get projected onto the wall. Those holding the partition that blocks out some of the fire’s light have themselves grown up in the cave, but may hold a quite different agenda from other cave dwellers. What is the partition to be found in St. Vincent De Paul’s cave? How are members of this organization blocked from seeing the full light of the fire inside their own cave?

There is yet another character in our contemporary cave. This is the interpreter, reporter or analyst. We actually don’t have enough time in our busy lives to look directly at the wall to see the shadows that are projected from the fire (which we assume is the “real” world). The cave has grown very large and we often can’t even see the walls of the cave and the shadows. We wait for the interpreter to tell us what is being projected on the wall and what the implications of these images are for us in our lives.  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.

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