Have you heard of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?
Three prisoners are raised in a cave. From their moment of birth, they are shackled by their arms, their legs, their neck, and forced to look at nothing but the back wall, which is lit by a faintly flickering fire.
Between the prisoners and the fire is a path, along which their jailers walk, carrying a range of statues representing things from the outside world. Caught in the light of the fire, these statues cast shadows onto the cave wall.
The prisoners give names to the shadows, and the shadows become their reality, for they do not understand the concept of a shadow, or have an inkling of their imprisonment. After all, this is the only world they have ever known.
One day, everything changes. A prisoner wakes, and suddenly finds themselves freed from their shackles.
They cross the path, pass the fire, and make their way out the exit and into the outside world.
The sun sears their eyes as they stumble into the alien environment. Here there are still shadows, but they are unlike those that appeared in the cave. Confused and in pain, the prisoner’s first instinct is to return to the cave, but something appears blocks their path.
It is a dog. A plain old dog, by our standards. But the prisoner can’t comprehend its existence. Plenty of dogs statues have cast their shadows on the cave wall, but this is something completely different.
Imagine their surprise then when a passerby them this is the real version of a dog. That what the prisoner believed to be a real dog was just an illusion. A trick of the light.
In time, the prisoner looks up at the sun, and understands that the passerby was telling the truth.
Enlightened, the prisoner hurries back to the cave, to free their fellow prisoners and introduce them to the real world.
Unaccustomed to the darkness, the prisoner is essentially blinded once more, and can no longer make out the shadows on the wall. But they don’t need to! They know the truth!
That’s not the way the other prisoners see it though. They think the returned prisoner is deluded, and that they too would go mad were they to leave the cave.
And so the moment their arms are free, they clamp them around the returned prisoner’s neck, and kill them in order to protect the world they know. The world they choose to believe in.
Plato used this allegory to express the challenges philosophers faced when attempting to educate the masses – the prisoners – about their newfound understanding of humanity, and the world.
Today, the same allegory can be applied to the endeavours of all great entrepreneurs.
The majority of systems that define society and our place within it are based off nothing more than shadows on a wall. Off presumption, ignorance, and our jailer’s hunger for power.
Those that do not believe in the potential for something to exist beyond these shadows can’t be blamed. We all have our biases, and even those who believe themselves free from the cave might not actually be so.
But there are some who have escaped. Some who have seen the sun, and understood it.
It is up to them to bring others into the light.
Not through products. Not through services. Those are only the shadows of a truer form: the Great Work that manifests them.
Great Work is the passion that leads entrepreneurs out of the cave and into the light. It’s what inspires them to attempt to free others, despite the risk of failure and destruction.
Will society ever reach a point where all humans find the courage to leave the cave? It’s impossible to say.
What is possible though is the potential. The potential that awaits if we’re willing to turn proudly against the shadows, and step out into the light.