In ancient Greek philosophy, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a story that describes people who are chained inside a cave and can only see shadows cast on the wall. The shadows represent what they perceive as reality. These people tell each other that these shadows are real things. They believe in them more than anything else. Those outside of the cave, who have seen reality with their own eyes, know better and try to convince those chained inside to come out into the light and see how wrong they are about what is true and what isn’t. But this doesn’t work because those inside don’t want to leave their comfortable place where they feel secure. After all, “they know” everything there is to know while believing nothing could be better than what they have.
The problem with this story is that it’s not just a story. It’s an allegory for the human condition. We are all like the people in the cave, perceiving shadows on the wall and believing them to be reality. And, just like the people in the cave, we don’t want to leave our comfort zone because we’re afraid of what we might find out.
What is real?
The only way to break out of this cycle is to challenge our beliefs and ideas about what is real and what isn’t. We need to be willing to question everything we think we know and be open to the possibility that we could be wrong. Only then can we start to see reality for what it is.
We can question what we think we know by examining our proclamations and asking ourselves if they stand up to scrutiny. If you think back to five years ago, there is a chance that the thoughts and beliefs you held then are no longer valid. You have progressed.
We see this routinely when we think back to our twenties or even teen years. We say things like, “I wish I would have known then what I know now.” We are not the same people we were then. We have a different perspective now.
We change as we experience more of life. Our perspectives change as we learn new information and grow in our understanding. This is progress.
It can be difficult to evaluate our progress because it’s not always easy to see how far we’ve come. We may not realize how much we’ve changed until we look back on our old beliefs and ideas and see how different they are from our current ones. But it’s important to try to do this to see just how much progress we’ve made and how much further we still have to go.
We have a habit as a species of evaluating ourselves from where we think we should be. When we think in this manner, we are thinking from the end backward. Memento Mori, which means “remember you will die” in Latin, is a way of thinking that can help us remember our mortality and appreciate the time we have been given.
It allows us to see that each day is a gift and not a right. It’s a reminder that our time is limited, and we need to make the most of it. It helps us focus on what’s important and not get caught up in things that don’t matter.
Most importantly, in the context of evaluating our progress, it eliminates us from thinking about how much further we have to go. While reading this, you could die from an aneurism where you think your endpoint should suddenly become irrelevant.
Instead, evaluate yourself on how far you have come. Not compared to anyone else. Not compared to where you think you should be. But, actual evidence is proof of the gap between where you started and where you are now.
This is progress. And, it’s the only thing that matters.
If you feel stuck or like you’re not making the progress you want to be, take a step back and look at how far you’ve come. You’ll be surprised by just how much progress you have made. And once you see it, you can use it as motivation to keep going.