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?
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?
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
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
As in "I will not node on e2? it's too scary to let
anyone read my writing"!
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...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?
Quite. but there is one responsibility that goes along with one's new-found
What is it?
He who has discovered his potential must help others see their
Just like you have done for me.
Yes...just as I have done for you.