Author's note: This is an allegory inspired by Plato's The Allegory of the Cave. It is written in the Socratic Method.

Now, sit still, and I will show you how the negative words and attitudes of others influence our lives. Behold! a man and a woman are hiking through a dense forest. As they trudge up the steep path before them, the straps of the backpacks they are wearing begin to chafe their arms, and the weight of their loads seems heavier and heavier.

      Could we get on with this?

They come to a clearing and the woman asks the man "What is in your pack?"

"I don't know, he says "What's in yours?"

"I don't know." she replies "let's look inside."

      These people are weird.

They are like ourselves. So the man loosens the ties to the woman's pack and looks inside. He reaches in, and what do you think he finds?

      Trail Mix?

After a fashion...he gasps, and pulls out a heavy rock...and another...and another. When the bag is empty, the woman loosens the ties to the man's pack, looks inside, and finds more rocks. She tosses stone after stone to the ground until there are no more in the bag.

      How could people carry the packs for so long and not notice that they contained rocks?

Aha! suppose they have been wearing the packs for longer than their memories can serve. The man and woman relax and relish their new weightless feeling, but soon they wonder why they are wearing backpacks at all; the packs hold no supplies, nothing of value, and slow their journey immeasurably. Do you think it would take precious little discussion to decide to remove their packs?

      Certainly.

They slowly slip the straps from their shoulders, but when the bags fall to the ground, the couple utter a cry of horror; brown, slimy flaps of skin hang from their backs.

      So the packs were there to cover their deformity... right?

Perhaps, but imagine that the man and woman begin to weep, violently at first, later with quiet tears. The sun sets, the moon rises, and the people's mournful sobs turn to uneasy slumber. What feelings do you think made them cry themselves to sleep?

      Shock? Embarrassment? Fear?

Fear...a good answer, but suppose night passes, and the two awaken from dreamless sleep, their faces red and raw from crying. Their eyes adjust slowly to the morning sunlight. When their sight clears, the faces that had seen so much sorrow the night before express ten times as much joy; for while they slept, the ugly skin flaps had dried into beautiful wings. After a few practice tries with their new wings, the two fly down to the village at the bottom of the hill. The people of the town greet the couple, and one by one the man and woman help the people empty and remove their own packs.

      Nice. But what does it mean?

Well, we are all on a hike of sorts; a hike through life, are we not?

      Sure, but what about the backpacks? We're not born with backpacks.

Indeed not. The bag is something we have learned so long and so well, we perceive it to be part of our nature. The backpack is fear. Not an instinct, like the fear of falling, but a gathered fear: a fear of rejection, ridicule, or failure. If we had to give the backpack another name, could we call it a Will Not?

      As in "I will not node on e2? it's too scary to let anyone read my writing"!

Exactly.

      But the rocks, how did they get in the pack?

If the bag is something we acquire ourselves, the rocks are things we are told by others. Each time a child is told that he is not smart, or strong, or good enough; each time an adolescent is put down, overlooked, or trod upon; each time a person is embarrassed or ignored, another stone is added to the pack. would I be remiss if I named the rocks Can Nots?

      That name fits.

So once we take away the Can Nots, what are we left with?

      A Will Not.

Yes and once we take away the Will Not what are we left with?

      Wings?

Wings...unlimited potential. It takes time for wings to unfold and dry; so too with the idea of one's potential being limitless. Not only must one realize how many talents he has, but he is challenged to use as many as possible. Do you see how exciting this could be?

      Wow!

Quite. but there is one responsibility that goes along with one's new-found wings.

      What is it?

He who has discovered his potential must help others see their own.

      Just like you have done for me.

Yes...just as I have done for you.

For the sake of equal time for malevolent swine, I would like to offer my own version of the above allegory. Mine is more of a fable, I guess. I expect that the truth lies just about exactly halfway between the two, adjacent to the golden mean. My half certainly isn't sufficient on its own.

So:

A man and a woman hiked up a mountain. Hours passed, they grew tired, and the straps of their packs abraded their shoulders. They began to wonder why the packs were so heavy, so they stopped to rest and have a look.

They were alarmed to find that the packs were full of rocks, and not a damn thing else! Naturally, they abandoned the packs.

Having discarded their ballast, each floated up about six feet into the air. They're floating there still, because you can't walk if there's nothing holding you against the ground.

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