I am certain that Before Philosophy 12 I had never heard of The Allegory of the Cave. Despite this, it seems like such a familiar concept and it has left me with a haunting sense of déjà vu over the past few days. This in turn has made me contemplate the way the cave appears in our society, my own level of enlightenment, and if there is a responsibility of the enlightened to enlighten others.
As we grow up we slowly move farther and farther out of the bottom of the cave, we become wiser, more independent and begin to develop our own beliefs. However, the enlightenment of growing up can only take us so far. I believe that at some point in our young adulthood we face a life altering experiences, be it good or bad, that either drives us back towards the shadows or further towards the light. I think these experiences can appear in any number of ways, from moving out on your own to the death of a close family member or friend, anything that is enough of a shock to make you question your life and beliefs up to that point.
The first time in my life when I felt enlightened was when I took part in the SHAD Program. It was the first time in my life I had been completely alone, away from home and people who knew me. I flew across Canada by myself not knowing exactly what to expect when I arrived. I was excited and scared but my month at SHAD was one of the best things I have ever experienced. I became friends with 47 other amazing youth from across Canada and gained a dozen enlightened mentors. Every day I was exposed to new ideas and possibilities on topics surrounding STEAM, leadership, business, and life in general. In addition to gaining a huge amount of awareness and wisdom, I was also pushed out of my comfort zone and constantly challenging my beliefs regarding my own strength and abilities. I find it really hard to explain the SHAD experience to people who haven’t taken part in the program but I can talk to people who have had their own SHAD experience for hours.
I believe that people that are able to leave the cave are the most successful. They are the innovators and leaders of the world because they are able to turn away from the shadows of the cave and into the light. Not only do they have the capacity to think outside of what is known and expected by society they also have the determination to pursue their ideas no matter the challenges they may face.
Right now I feel like I am near the opening of the cave attempting to turn my head towards the light, I can see flashes of the outside world from my peripheral vision but I can’t quite make sense of it yet. I want to turn my head I’m just not sure how to. I feel like there is more to life than I currently know and sometimes I think I come close to comprehending it but then it slips away. But I can’t help but wonder, if the cave is a spectrum, how far do you have to go before you are right up against the wall again? Until you are so intent on finding enlightenment that you are staring at shadows on a different wall of a new cave.
Another question raised by the class discussion on The Allegory of the Cave was “Are the enlightened obligated to show others the light?” If anything, I think that if you are enlightened you are morally obligated to enlighten others. This moral responsibility is similar to the one that falls on people trained in first aid when they are off duty. I am trained as a lifeguard and if I were to come across a first aid situation I would feel a responsibility to help even if there was a certain level of risk to my own safety. I can no longer relax when I am at the pool or the lake because I am acutely aware of the risk of drowning. However, I would rather be slightly anxious and have the ability to save someone’s life than be faced with an emergency and feel helpless. I think there is a certain level of burden that comes with being enlightened. Ignorance may be bliss but once you discover the truth I think most people would rather be troubled than return to their previous life of obliviousness. With this, I think there comes a desire to educate others and therefore a drive to enlighten anyone who will listen.
If The Allegory of the Cave is a metaphor for life, I still have many questions. How does one become truly enlightened? Do you even know when you are? Does the sheer fact that we are aware we are trapped in a cave make us enlightened? Who places the chains on us? How does one escape? And what is beyond the cave? Is it just another bigger brighter cave?