A mother’s answer to a very tricky question

Last night my daughter asked me why adults are always fighting with each-other…wars, divorce, disagreements at work…..

I never did buy ‘The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents)’, and so I momentarily stared at her with a dumb, clueless look in my eyes, and tried to regain my authority with a half witted answer: ‘Well honey….people have a lot of trouble seeing past their own point of view, regardless of the consequences’.

But I was making NO sense to the child, and instead I decided to share a story that Socrates told to Plato many centuries ago, but of course it had to be modified by Moi:

Men in chains

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, lived 3 men.  These men were brothers, born and raised inside a large cave amongst several other cavemen and women.  But these 3 men were different.  Because at the very moment that they were born, they were put in chains and tied to a long, wooden log.  Their heads were fixed in a harness so that they couldn’t turn to look around them.  There was a fire constantly lit behind them, fuelled by the other cavemen and women who roamed freely behind the 3 chained gentlemen.  All the boys ever saw were the shadows cast by the fire on the wall.  But to them, these shadows were what people looked like…. what they themselves must of looked like.  The fire that burned behind them was given the name ‘The Sun’.   The cave where they lived was their world.  There was nothing outside of it, nothing beyond it.  This is all they knew, this was their entire reality.

One day, one of the men awoke from his night’s sleep to find that the chains around him had been removed.  Confused, he stood up slowly, using muscles that he did not know that he had.  He turned around for the very first time and found that he was looking directly at the fire that he called the ‘Sun’.  He shut his eyes for a moment to take this sight in, and when he opened them…. there in front of him was a person, in the flesh.

Our man, who we will call Ted, had not the first clue what he was looking at!  What was this strange thing that was moving in front of the fire? How would he ever be able to describe this ‘thing’ to his brothers back on the log? They would never believe him….think he started drinking again, fell off the wagon, and so forth…..(I didn’t actually say that last line to my daughter)

This is what I want Ted to look like. Its my version so….

It took him quite a while for his mind to make sense of what he was seeing, but eventually he did adjust and came to accept that not only did this alien actually exist, but it had many of the same features as his own body.  It took Ted a while to understand that the sun was something that was directly behind him, and fed each hour by men and women.  It took much thought before he grasped that the pictures on the wall that he had known for his entire life were not people, but shadows of people.   And it took him mental leaps and bounds to believe that there were more people in his world then just himself and his brothers.

Some time later, Ted decided to go for a stroll around the cave, meet others and see the sites of his newly discovered world.  On his travels, he saw a very bright light located at the far end of the cave.  The light would get brighter, change shades, become pink and then disappear.  Ted moved closer to it each day, slightly weary of he would find if he got too close.  But one day he took a deep breath, gave himself a wee pep talk and headed into it.

The world beyond our minds

 And OMG, Ted was completely blown away by what he saw before him.  He was sure that someone had slipped something into his coffee that morning, he simply had to be hallucinating (didn’t say that bit either).  There before him was an enormous, infinite open space filled with foreign but beautiful things.   There were multicoloured flowers, trees of all sorts, there birds singing in the sky and soft fluffy clouds suspended in mid air.  There were people of all shapes and sizes, there were all kinds of animals waking freely and beautiful bodies of water surrounding him.

It took enormous effort for his mind adjusted and grasped the world around him.  With dedication he accepted that the world consisted of so much more than what he once knew.  With great effort, Ted managed to shed his limited view of reality in order to take on a new one.  And with a renewed belief and appreciation for the beauty of the world, he excitedly went back into the cave and rushed to tell his brothers all about it.

Ted spoke with great excitment: “guys, you’ll never believe this… but you know those pictures on the wall…those are not people, they are only shadows of people, we were totally wrong.  And you know the light and heat that come from behind us…  that is not the sun, its only a fire.  But wait, that is not it….This cave that we live in, it is not the world, there is so much more.  You must see, there are birds, and trees and music and a massive ball of fire in the sky.  There are people, and ….”

But Ted never did get to finish his story.  His brothers interrupted him and told him that they did not want to hear such nonsense.   That clearly he had lost his mind and was very unwell.  Ted begged them to believe him, but they only grew more angry and told him to leave.  And so Ted untied one of them to see for himself.  But as soon as he did, his brother swiftly killed Ted……..and then sat back down, put his chains back on himself and continued to stare at the wall.


I finished my story by explaining to my daughter that people feel scared to look at the world differently than they have always done before.  They prefer to stay inside their caves.

‘Do you understand a bit more now darling?’ I asked

‘I think so’, she said ‘the point is that adults are not very smart at all…. ’