I must have been about 15 or 16 years old when I read Plato at school. Plato, the Greek philosopher who lived from 427 -347 BC and is still regularly quoted to this day. I actually wonder now what I understood about his philosophies at that young age, but at the time I was not at all bothered. I found it interesting, we discussed what we read in class and I thought I understood everything very well. Plato’s most famous writing is, of course, the allegory of the cave in his work Politea (State). I am going to write that allegory here in my own words but clearly based on Plato. With a conclusion of course, otherwise I could have sufficed with a reference to Wikipedia.
Six people sit in a cave, all with their arms, legs and necks chained to the wall. As a result, they can only look one way, straight ahead. They have never been outside the cave. A fire burns at the narrow opening, leaving only a faint glow from the sun. People or animals passing by outside the cave or things carried alongside the cave are projected onto the wall by the fire, causing all the prisoners to see only shadows. It may look like this:
For the prisoners, the shadows are the reality, they don’t know any better, they’ve never seen anything else, and no one has the urge to ask questions. One day one of them escapes. Once outside, he doesn’t know what he sees as soon as his eyes have adjusted to the harsh sunlight. What beautiful, colourful pastures. And then those animals. He is totally overwhelmed by so much beauty. People look at him strangely, but kindly greet and smile at him.
As excited as he is about his discovery of a completely different world outside the cave, he decides to go back to the cave and tell the prisoners about his experience. After his eyes have adjusted to the darkness, he starts telling his story. The prisoners start laughing out loud. They’ve never heard such nonsense. Colour? Beauty? A bright sun? Are you crazy? Ridiculous. The reality is here and nowhere else. Get lost.
There is nothing for the escaped person to do but to leave and begin his adventure outside the cave, called life.
The meaning of this allegory may be clear and seems to apply extremely well to the chaotic situation in which the world finds itself today. Government leaders try to keep us in our cave, putting fear into us, new knowledge is not heard by the governments and is dismissed by the people in the cave.
Fortunately, more and more people are starting to wake up, protesting against the inhumanity and undesirability of the measures. Now the political leaders only have to admit that new insights have taught them that mistakes have been made. How difficult can that be? We all make mistakes and we learn from that. Don’t we? Why not them then? Are egos too big? Or maybe they should take a look at the extremely rich people getting richer every day. Follow the money and see where you end up. No surprise for me there.
I would suggest listening to people on YouTube for instance who dare to ask questions, who organise protests and share their medical knowledge.
What can go wrong with that? You can always go back to your cave.
The orchid just makes flowers The Cycad just grows tall The spider just builds a nest The rabbit just nibbles on a carrot A dog just nudges a toddler, invitation to play The lioness just hides in the bush, watching her next meal to survive. No second thougths, no egos, just knowing. Nature our big teacher, always, all the time. Focussed, content and wise. The third part of nature, us humans, shows a different picture. We know better, we go to war, we disagree, we manipulate, we lie, I am right and you are wrong, we say, always, all the time. Not focussed, not content, not wise. Where did we go wrong? As soon as we became ego driven? When did we forget that only love is real? When did we stop living from our hearts? Where is our compassion? Especially NOW we need to go back, back to who we really are, aware and living life as it should be: Love In Full Expression. As loving teachers to others, accepting differences, in harmony, stillness and with peace in our hearts.
(I entered the short story below for the short story summer competition of the Dutch Newspaper NRC. There were a few rules. The story shouldn’t contain more than 600 words; you get bonus points by using the words’ gravel’, ‘steam’ and ‘umami’*. They are, of course, included in my story. Furthermore, the word corona isn’t allowed, the setting is a summer day and it must be a gripping story).
Even before Sarah can get up from her sunbed to put her slipper back on her foot, which had fallen off, she sees the almost black eyes of her lover Jeroen above her head. In his hand, teasingly and with puckered lips, he holds up her elegant slipper as if to say that he will only slide it on her foot for a kiss.
“You’re so beautiful and delicious,” he mutters, leaning forward and kissing her full on the mouth.
“Such a sweetheart,” she thinks. Her thoughts go back to her ex.
Jeroen walks back to his lounger and stares happily at the pool’s clear blue water. “Not too bad to spend a summer day this way,” he thinks, closing his eyes.
“What a huge difference between the two men,” muses Sarah.
Johan, her ex, a control freak with wandering hands and Jeroen full of attention, a sharp mind, a true IT man, and a good cook. In the beginning it had seemed like a dream relationship with Johan, a fashion photographer and her, a successful model. Soon, however, he regularly became highly violent with her. The final straw was when Johan had beaten her so severely in the front yard that she had not been able to stand up. And then suddenly Jeroen had appeared on the garden path. Without giving it another thought, he had lifted her up and carried her into the house. They had started talking, dating, had sex often and satisfactorily and decided to live together in Sarah’s spacious villa within three months. A cohabitation contract stipulating that the surviving partner would inherit everything sealed their happiness.
She had never heard from Johan again.
A sneeze puts an end to Sarah’s musing and while she grabs a tissue she says to Jeroen:
“I feel a cold coming up.” He rubs his eyes.
“That’s typical Jeroen,” Sarah thinks.
“Maybe you should steam?” he says.
‘Always a helpful suggestion and there for you, I am so lucky’.
‘I’ll put the kettle on and while you’re steaming, I’ll go shopping for a seafood dish. I will make sure that you can clearly taste umami because you love that so much. While talking, Jeroen has gone to the kitchen, and a little later Sarah hears him calling that Madam can take a seat.
Sarah gets up from her lounger, walks to the kitchen and sits down at the kitchen table, where Jeroen has laid out everything. A container with boiling water, from which the menthol vapour hits her. Next to it lies a towel which she puts over her head. She bends her head over the steam and closes her eyes. The sound of Jeroen’s footsteps crunching on the gravel path slowly fades away. What Sarah doesn’t hear is that those same footsteps turn around. At the kitchen door, Jeroen hesitates; then he quickly walks over to Sarah and pushes her head into the container with the scalding water. Her scream is muffled.
Jeroen leaves the kitchen, hurries to his car and drives to the Japanese convenience store. When he gets home he finds Sarah unconscious on the floor. He calls the emergency number. The paramedics find a distraught man next to the victim who keeps shouting that he does not understand how this could have happened.
A few days later -Sarah has passed away- Jeroen is about to start cooking as the bell rings. He walks to the front door, opens it and sees Johan’s grinning face.
He says: “I will make fish with a strong umami taste. Are you staying for supper? We have something to celebrate, don’t we? “
The first aspect of our behaviour in this post has to do with turning a blind eye which I derive mainly from an interesting book I read last week entitled: Wilful Blindness. Written by researcher and businesswoman Margaret Heffernan. The book was first published in 2011 and has been updated and reprinted several times.
The book is about how we tend to look away if a certain situation doesn’t feel right to us, is uncomfortable, disturbs our peace of mind, can be financially threatening, gets in the way of our ego etc. We just don’t like change, we prefer the situation as it is. Numerous examples are described in the book, based on carefully conducted scientific research, with all references at the back of the book.
The question remains whether our behaviour is naturally what it is or whether it is formed by the circumstances (nature versus nurture). There is no simple answer to that. I think both play a role. One child experiences its upbringing differently from a sibling while the circumstances are the same, because it is, for example, more sensitive. Identical twins can show completely different behaviour later in life, while the opposite also occurs. This is an introduction on my part. Some examples from the book:
We are always amazed that women go back to the men who abuse them. Whether the abuse is verbal, physical or sexual, the man promises to better himself and the woman believes him. Women who make that choice have low self-esteem (I don’t deserve better, perhaps an example of nature) or they saw their mother undergoing the same treatment (they don’t know any better, an example of nurture). They tell themselves that it is their fault, that they themselves must be a better wife to their husband, or that they cannot handle life on their own (especially for financial reasons). These women are often the victims of psychopaths, who are so manipulative that even psychologists are deceived. Both groups are therefore blind to reality and look away.
Child abuse, whether sexual or otherwise, is much more common than we think. That incest only occurs in lower-class families is a fairy tale, that mothers often look away, unfortunately not. Why is that? Out of fear of what they will get themselves into when they speak up. Head in the sand, then the problem does not exist. Especially because they want to keep the harmony (for themselves, not for the child). The consequences for the (behaviour of the) child are enormous.
Alice Stewart noticed in the 1950s that twice as many children born to women who had an x-ray during pregnancy developed cancer in a period of ten years. Before making this widely known, she did more research and kept coming to the same conclusion. She raised it with colleagues before publishing it in The Lancet in 1956. There was talk of the Nobel Prize for her. And then nothing at all happened. Why? It was indigestible for doctors that they had done something that turned out to be life-threatening to foetuses. X-rays were in vogue, because it was a relatively new technology and no one wanted to see the harm it could cause. People looked away. She was made fun of. It took many years for her findings to be recognised. (this is a very short summary of her story)
Albert Speer, after 1942 the second most powerful man in Germany, and Hitler got along very well. Speer was therefore completely blind to the monster that was Hitler. His life was spared at the Nuremberg trial because he freely admitted not seeing what Hitler had been doing. He later stated to his biographer that he had to spend the rest of his life coming to terms with what he had done because he had been blind.
You are in love and a good friend very carefully says something negative about your new love. You don’t hear it, you don’t see it, you are completely blind. You even push away that annoying little voice in the back of your head.
Other examples: MeToo; People who are initially critical of misconduct in their company, but then gradually go along with the flow, because everyone does it and you don’t want to be an outsider. The real whistleblowers, who don’t mind being ridiculed when they denounce wrongdoing at companies, institutions and governments, are being fired because they are contrarians and reveal things that the boss is looking away from, often because a lot of money is at stake. Madoff, Enron etc.
And so there are countless other examples in the book of which you think, how on earth is it possible? But look into the mirror. Is our own behaviour always flawless? Can we always resist the temptation to do something that we know is not actually right, but which we then know how to condone in an excellent way?
Look what happened when the sale of cigarettes was banned. The black market grew by the day. Everyone smoked as much as ever before or more, no one suddenly stopped smoking. If you intend to quit smoking, it isn’t going to happen because the sale is banned. I would almost say the opposite is true. I myself hadn’t smoked a cigarette for over a year, but I thought when the ban is lifted, I will light one or two or… Purely recalcitrant behaviour.
Forbidding something leads to excessive behaviour and has the opposite effect.
Alcohol insanely expensive in Sweden? Then we take the ferry back and forth and drink as much and as fast as we can, as soon as the boat is out of territorial waters. How so?
The ban on the sale of alcohol caused the same behaviour as with the cigarettes. You want more of it if you can’t have it freely and legally.
Forbidden fruits (illegal cigarettes and alcohol, drugs, an affair) simply taste much better. Why? Because of the excitement? The chance to get caught? Satisfaction of our ego? Look at me? Pure boredom? The need of something outside of ourself to get a fix?
Us humans are also resourceful. No alcohol for sale? Then we make it ourselves, right? With ginger and pineapple, for example. (this has increased the price of ginger by 300%, but this aside). Anything better than being without.
If there has ever been an interesting time to take a closer look at our behaviour, it is now. People who express different opinions are ridiculed, fired or slandered. Just like so many whistleblowers before them. Without giving the other person the opportunity to give his view on the matter and thus engage into a dialogue. We are quick to judge, but who are we to even have an opinion about someone else.
‘Has she gone mad?’ You may think when you read this headline. Read on and you will see that it is not too bad and that you may also be a tulip or a daffodil or a violet for example.
I can get quite upset about a lot of different things. To name a few:
The injustice in the world
The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots
That people don’t have anything to eat, something that is no longer limited to the children in Africa
Corruption of government leaders, something that is no longer limited to Africa or South America
Destruction out of helplessness or out of anger
The idea that war offers a solution and is justifiable
Lies that are told and which we easily take for granted. If you repeat a big lie often enough, it will automatically become the truth. This phenomenon is called the “illusory” truth in cognitive psychology. Adolf Hitler introduced the term The Big Lie, but the term is also attributed to Joseph Goebbels
The extreme control bordering on tyranny. By politicians, by your boss, by religions or by any authority
Child abuse and the ever-expanding paedophile network
and…. the fact that I don’t do anything substantial about it. I am not founding an organisation or joining a group that stands for something, I am not on the barricades. I admire people who do, who fight injustice with all their hearts in whatever form it takes. I sometimes feel guilty about that.
It should be clear that my ego plays a role here. Hadn’t you better, shouldn’t you, what are you doing anyhow, the ego whispers in my ear.
That’s their life path and not yours, my wise friend Loraine said to me recently. If you are a tulip, you are not a rose. Both are equally unique, equally beautiful, but different. Accept who and what you are, you are good enough. Don’t bend over backwards to be somebody you’re not. It is what it is. Everything happens as it should. Being agitated changes nothing and is bad for your health. Let it go. The world has always been in chaos. That makes absolute sense and of course, deep down I know it, but it’s good to hear it again.
Humanity has a lot to learn, which is why we are here on Earth. We have to wake up from the dream, the illusion, become aware, know that we are spiritual beings, that we are one collective consciousness, with different aspects.
It always comes down to love, love for another and to start with, especially love for yourself. If we realise that, everything will be fine.
Only love is real, as the American psychiatrist Brian Weiss so brilliantly tells us in his book. Something to remember over and over and to apply to your life, whoever you are.
Authority comes in many forms. In general, we can say that authority is a body or person with authority. For example, we can think of politicians, the police, the municipality, a professor, your GP or any other person to whom we attribute expertise that we do not have ourselves. When we were young, our parents, educators, and teachers played that role, shaping our beliefs and values later in life —getting ready for the big world, society. Obedience was seen as essential because the authority has the upper hand; who knows what they are talking about. As we grow older, we often question what these people taught us as the truth, valuable, right and wrong, and so we form our views, which often differ from what our influencers told us as children. We like to associate our opinions with being good and conscientious person who does not intentionally harm another.
On the contrary, we want to help and adhere to the rules as much as possible. Unless, of course, those rules go against your feelings in your opinion, you disobey and obstinate. That is personal, so not the same for everyone. One person is simply more docile than the other. In general, we can say that our conscience is the most important factor driving our behaviour. Some people have absolutely no conscience; those are the sociopaths in our midst, who make up no less than 4% of humanity. A shocking percentage, I would say. These people are not all criminals, serial killers or child molesters. Through extreme manipulation and the constant telling of blatant lies, they often manage to reach high positions. The following experiment shows that we can easily set our conscience aside when an authority prompts us to do so.
In 1961 and 1962, Professor Stanley Milgram conducted a psychological study with astounding results. Two men who do not know each other arrive at a laboratory under the guise that it is about memory and learning. Milgram tells the participants that the experiment is about the effects of punishment on learning. One of the two is the learner, the other the teacher. The learner is placed on a chair, and his arms are tied to the armrests. An electrode is then attached to his wrist. He is told to learn word pairs. For example, the colour blue belongs to the word bird. If he makes a mistake, he gets an electric shock.
The more mistakes, the stronger the shock. After the teacher sees that the learner is chained to his chair, the professor explains that he, the teacher, must inflict the shocks. He takes him to another room with a machine with buttons he can press to deliver the shocks, ranging from 15 volts to 450 volts to the learner. It should be clear that 450 volts through your body put your life in grave danger. Soon the learner has a hard time and screams that the shocks must stop, that he wants to be freed from his chair. However, in the same room as the teacher, the professor gently encourages him to continue. The teacher doesn’t know that the learner is the professor’s colleague and doesn’t get any shocks at all. He is only pretending in the context of the experiment. The experiment is performed 40 times, with people of different levels of education, all with the same result. You can already feel the mood. 34 out of 40 Participants continue to shock the learner, that’s 62.5%, even up to 450 volts. They sweat, complain and hold their heads in despair, but they carry on because the authoritative professor says they must. The only difference between the male and female participants was that the obedient females reported more stress than the males.
Then Milgram experimented with an ‘ordinary’ man giving the instructions, i.e. no authority, with the result that the percentage of those who obeyed fell from 62.5% to 20%.
The participants’ consciences were turned off by coûte que coûte obeying the authority, with the result that they didn’t care that they inflicted ‘the other’ enormous damage. The fact that the ‘ordinary’ man still scored 20% is perhaps since we want to do something well? Don’t want to disappoint the researcher? Those are my interpretations, by the way.
You can also extend the results of this experiment to the soldier. Their authoritative superior tells them that an enemy is an evil person, does not deserve the light in their eyes, in short, should be killed for the great good of the country for which they are fighting. With that mindset, the soldier leaves for the battlefield. Thoroughly indoctrinated and unable to think for themselves and with their conscience gone. When they come home, there is a damaged person, often with PTSD.
What about the conscience of the authority itself? Or your conscience? Is it sometimes gone for a while or on the back burner? Because you obey an authority which, in your opinion, knows better than you? Because your self-esteem is not optimal? Because you don’t take the effort to find the truth yourself but are lazy?
Do I need to go into the moral, or is this clear enough? I think so…
You are still young not in years, but at heart. You love your life, you’re free to walk, go out, to dance, to laugh, to sometimes cry, you live! But then all hell breaks loose. Chaos in the world, chaos in your head. The streets empty, your freedom gone. No knock on your door, no coffees with friends, no hugs are allowed. Slowly but surely your zest for life disappears. You don’t dare to say, you may not want to stay. Lonely, fearful, without hope you take them all, you go to sleep to never wake up. At least you’re now free, free from the chaos in the world, the chaos in your head.