Plato lived surrounded by poets, mathematicians, astronomers and other scholars. His teachings focused on understanding, individualism and self knowledge. As a great sage, he never felt threatened by ideas and philosophies different than his, on the contrary, he welcomed them. Like any educated mind, he understood “perception” and that closing one to any constructive criticism, is a sign of a stagnant mind. Due to his urgent need to write down all his ideas, today we can access his writings, advice and lessons.
1. “It is not the eyes that see but what we see through the eyes”.-Here Plato uses the myth of the cave as an allegory to explain the relationship between the physical and the world of ideas–A group of people chained inside a cave, believed that to be the only reality. When they got to see the outside, the sun damaged their eyes. As such they demanded to go back into the cave; even if they were chained; because it was more comfortable and what they were used to. Upon their return inside, their perception of the world had changed.
Through this fable the philosopher teaches us the power of perception and how once we exposed ourselves to other concepts our mind whether we want to or not will expand; however, whether that expansion is integrated for our benefit or we choose to dismiss it and deny it so we may feel more comfortable, it is up to each individual.
Plato urges us to question our ideas and beliefs; to question where we are chained–are we afraid of what we may discover? The shadows from inside the cavern simulate a deceptive and limited reality which chains us to ignorance, distracting us from our own potential.
2.”The wise man will always want to be with the one who is better than him”.- Plato believed the world should be ruled by philosophers; not the type that just like to complicate things for no reason but those who honor pure philosophy; in other words people who are introspective. According to Plato, they are the ones most capable of leading. He greatly admired other philosophers, such as Socrates; from which he considered he could learn much. It is always beneficial to surround ourselves with people who can teach us something, even if we don’t agree with them.
To be wise is not to be egotistical but to revel at the idea of opening up oneself to different concepts. The fool seeks to impose and be praised for his ideas, the wise soul seeks to expand and understand the mysteries of life.
3. “We must seek for our evils a cause other than God”.- Given his admiration for Socrates, of whom he was a disciple, his death sentence for propagating supposed pagan theories affected him deeply. He considered it unfair that he should be executed for proposing alternatives to the established ones, which were not even such.
From his mentor, Plato learned most people people are not bad by nature but by ignorance. The human being himself is the master of his actions and responsible for his decisions. Hiding behind a God or morally correct ideology to perform unjust actions is an aberration.
4. “No human cause deserves such anxiety”.- If we are honest with ourselves, most of the time we overly worry about banal things or things which are external to our control. In cases where anxiety has a reason to be there, we need to learn to manage it, to heal it not to suppress it, nor give into it as a pattern for our lives; otherwise it will determine how we experience life.
5. “Looking for the good in our fellow men, will help us find the good in us”.- This a call for understanding and kindness. However, it was never meant to be used as an excuse to hide behind whenever we are too afraid to confront a situation or people. It is not about extremes but balance. It is not about denial but reason; looking at things as they are–instead of lying to ourselves in order to avoid self responsibility. We should strive to look for the good within every person and every situation without blinding ourselves; for to choose denial will not lead to self development and it is certainly not a virtue but our own weapon of destruction.
Despite the differences in our times, Plato’s advice is as valid and useful today as it was back then. Maybe if we put his advice in practice, we will learn to see life from a different perspective; a more congruent one.