Why Thought Leaders Will Always be Ahead of the Times

Do you know Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?

Let me explain it, as concisely as I can.

Three prisoners are raised in a cave. From their moment of birth, they are shackled by their arms, legs, and neck, and made to stare at the back wall.

Behind them is a faintly flickering fire, and between both prisoners and fire is a walkway upon which people and objects often pass. As they go about their way, their shadows are projected onto the stone wall at which the prisoners are forced to look upon.

The prisoners name the shadows, believing what they perceive to be the true form of these entities. This is their reality.

One day, everything changes. One of the prisoners is freed from their shackles, and forced into the outside world.

The sun sears their eyes as they stumble into the alien environment. Eventually, however, they begin to adjust, and what they see surprises them so much that all they want is to return to the cave.

Before them sits a dog, but the prisoner can’t process this. Plenty of dogs have made their way along the walkway in the cave, but the only dog the prisoner knows is the shadow on the wall.

Imagine their surprise then when someone tells them this is the real version of a dog.

Eventually, the prisoner adjusts so well that they can look at the sun itself, and recognise it.

Enlightened, the prisoner hurries back to the cave, to tell their fellow prisoners what they have seen, and to free them as well.

Unaccustomed to the darkness, the prisoner is essentially blinded once more, and can no longer make out the shadows on the wall of the cave. But they don’t need to! They know the truth!

That’s not the way the other prisoners see it, of course. They think the returned prisoner is deluded, and that they would face the same fate were they to leave the cave. If the returned prisoner was attempt to free them, they might even kill him to protect their reality.

Such is the allegory Plato used when expressing the issue philosophers have when trying to inform and educate the masses – the true prisoners – of what they have discovered lying beyond their vision.

Though it’s likely not what the great philosopher expected, I believe the same allegory can be applied to the thought leaders and transformative entrepreneurs of our time.

Every system that defines society is based off nothing more than shadows on a wall. Off presumption and ignorance.

Those that do not believe in potential for something beyond these shadows can not instantly be blamed. We all have our biases, and those who think they are outside the cave rarely are.

But there are some who truly have escaped the cave. They have seen the sun, and know it for what it is.

It is up to them to bring others into the light.

Not through products. Not through objects. Those are only the shadows of a truer form: the philosophy that inspires them.

Great ideas are what all thought leaders find once they’re thrust, kicking and screaming, out of the cave by their passion. And it is through these great ideas that they will encourage others to join them.

Will society ever reach a point where all humans feel comfortable leaving the cave? It’s impossible to say.

What is possible though is the potential. The potential that awaits if we’re willing to turn blindly against the shadows, and step out into the light.

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