Self-Reflection and the Allegory of the Cave

I picture self-awareness as a series of funhouse mirrors, in which the perception of self is distorted by our experiences and what we like to think of as knowledge. The goal of self-awareness, then, might be to choose the mirror of self-reflection wisely. Way back in long, long ago time, I took a philosophy class in which we read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. His theory was that knowledge gained through the senses is no more than opinion (thanks, web person Amy on Philosophyser, for your lovely summary). I thought the cave allegory was abundantly cool, and also abundantly scary. I think I know a thing, but I don’t really know it. As time has passed, I am reminded daily of how true that is.

In addition to being a kind of self-reflective human person anyway, I was recently obliged to complete a self-evaluation for my job. For someone who finds giving myself an A+ and a smiley face on anything difficult, this is a painful process. It’s not that I don’t think I have exemplary skills in a certain category, it’s that I know there is always room for me to do better, to be better, to learn more, and to share more. For me to suggest to my peer evaluator that I’m super stupendous awesome is an untruth. The only thing I can claim to be super stupendous awesome at is in being willing to improve. Anything we’re passionate about is both the greatest source of joy and its greatest pain. I am a practitioner who will never perfect my craft. I’m not sure that perfection is the correct goal anyway, just innovation. Oh, yeah, only that.

Of course, I know the paperwork process of self-reflection. I use evidence to support why I check a certain thing, swear internally, and then choose a particular skill to focus on for improvement. Since I can’t choose “everything” (there’s no box for that), I choose my area of personal primary concern and detail what I would do to improve upon that. It was then that I remembered the Allegory of the Cave, all the Marianne Williamson books I’ve ever read, and my tendency to laugh at myself. I am not afraid of my inadequacy, but if I am powerful beyond measure, I haven’t been using my cajones very productively. Or, if I have, I was looking at a reflection in the cave, and not at its reality.

My aunt used to refer to certain outfits she wore as a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. I tend to think of self-reflection in the same way. I’m a human: flawed, biased, abundantly excited about, oh, pretty much everything, and always willing to learn. How this translates into my daily life remains a happy mystery. I just cover the bases of perception, remembering that the energy I toss out impacts other people, and that they react to that.

People are wonderfully complicated, and yet we’re essentially just carbon-based life forms (thank you Star Trek for that). Yep, I’m alluding to fashion, science fiction, other bloggers, and the Allegory of the Cave all in a few hundred words. These are not mutually exclusive. They all just serve to remind me that, no matter how well I know myself, and regardless of how I actually performed on the day of my observation, I am a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. I wore my favorite Friday outfit (fashion), included music and metacognition (sublime), and told really bad jokes (ridiculous). All things considered, that’s not bad for a day in the life of human person perceiving myself using only the senses and reasoning to guide the way.



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