Allegory of the Cave

Remember those philosophy lessons? Socrates, Homer and Dante? Confucius, Hafiz, Rumi and Lao Tsu? Plato, a student of Socrates, was able to put into a metaphor the simple concept of how we come to understand things. Simply put, we comprehend the world, people, and ideas to the level at which we are ready to perceive. The good news is, if things are confusing, we can know it doesn’t always have to be. Our world changes as our perception of it expands.

What is your understanding of people? Do we naturally argue? Or do you believe there is something wrong and amiss with the world that causes us to conflict so much?

To the extent that we feel discomfort from discord is evidence enough that something is “wrong”, out of place. If it was completely ordained in nature, nature would make sure it felt okay or benign to prevent changing it. But conflict does not feel good. I’m not talking about a healthy game of basket ball: I’m referring to fighting conflict, and the fear, anger and harm that it escalates into.

Having said that, there is no way really to avoid it, because nature did something wonderful: we are all unique.  Separated into bodies, unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint, even identical twins have differences. And with that, we see, hear, witness, perceive, remember, retell and are affected by the world in uniquely different ways. A husband and wife who have been through everything together in their 30 years of marriage will still argue over the dinner they last shared at the restaurant that was “next to the bakery…”  “No! it was next to the clock repair shop, and it was nonfat dressing, not oil-based dressing ”  ….   We comprehend the world, people and ideas to the level at which we are ready to perceive.

Conflict is uncomfortable, but why should our differences be? Maybe we are destined to experience this life as separate unique beings as a gift, but why does that become such a burden? If I’m in my cave of dry sandy walls where I can draw pictures, and you are in your cave of crystal studded walls where you can channel light, does our conflict come from our inability to understand each other’s cave, environment, possibilities? We are yelling at each other through the walls, trying to get stuff done, trying to have our point of view understood by the other, such that we forget we are yelling through thick cave walls. No wonder we’re grumpy, exhausted and hurt.

The conflict described here is not the difference of our unique gifts, not caused by diversity. It is the harm we inflict on ourselves and each other by forgetting we are unique. We suffer the passive amnesia that no two people, no matter how intimate, will ever see the world the same, will ever have exactly the same relationship with their maker as another, will always see the color green a little differently. And in that we forget what a beautiful gift nature created with all those differences.

We will all have a different take on a subject, something to offer the conversation, a unique piece of the puzzle to solve. The discomfort comes from forgetting who we are, and forgetting the other is in the same boat. Remember: You don’t have the full picture, and neither does your partner. Listen, hear, try to experience the other’s cave. And if you can’t, no worries. That you paused in your own world to respect someone else’s point of view, even if you don’t understand it or agree with it, is huge in making those walls that separate us a little thinner and possibility for connecting a little closer. So maybe conflict is inevitable, but the discomfort doesn’t have to be.

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