Socrates' cave represents the world of our "received beliefs." Each of us harbors a myriad of ideas, attitudes, and opinions that have been "programmed" into us by our upbringing, schooling, culture, and social and media environment. The "chains" that bind us to these ideas are our understandable desire to please others, to be accepted, and to save ourselves the effort of thinking things through ourselves.

Such acceptance is not entirely bad. In most cases, these ideas, opinions, and attitudes are quite serviceable. We should not have to think through everything ourselves. We do not need to challenge everything. But we do need to know how to conduct such a self-examination of our beliefs when it is required. Otherwise, we will live our lives as unwitting intellectual puppets. The uneducated man who has strong opinions but has never examined any of them is merely the ventriloquist's dummy of some obsolete philosopher or of the latest media hype. . . .

1. Re-visit a "cave" from which you have freed yourself.

Visualize a time in your life when, looking back, you now realize you were in a "cave." (You were living your life according to how someone else thought you should without your even being aware of it.)

a. "Feel" your way into and around that state of mind. (Why was it comfortable, etc.)

b. Recall how it felt when you realized that you needed to question that viewpoint.

c. Recollect what enabled you to free yourself.

d. Reflect on whether you could or should have gone back into the cave to help others free themselves.

2. Enter the cave of an "opinion shaper."

Think of a person in public life whose opinion(s) have struck you as shocking, offensive, wrong-headed, destructive, etc. (a politician, pundit, or bigot perhaps). Now, ask yourself: What experiences could this person have had that could have led them to espouse this viewpoint (especially experiences you have not had). Second, ask yourself: Is there at least one aspect or facet of what they are saying from which I could learn something?

Ronald Gross in Socrates' Way