When I was in college, the daily student newspaper included a really challenging crossword puzzle that I enjoyed working on every day. That is to say: I didn’t pay attention in class most of the time. Very few lessons have stuck with me over the years. But one class I really enjoyed was Philosophy 101, where we talked about ideas like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
In it, the Classical Greek thinker imagines prisoners who have spent their entire lives chained in a dark cave, unable to move their heads, forced to watch shadows from a fire move across a dark wall. All they know of the world—of existence in any form—are these shadows.
The metaphor is an explanation of Plato’s Theory of Forms—that appearance is not necessarily reality. A lot of contemporary works have channeled this idea, such as The Matrix. (Brilliant though he was, Plato could not have conceived of a Keanu Reeves.) And some people, Tesla’s Elon Musk among them, even believe that we really exist only in a futuristic computer simulation. There’s no way to prove or disprove it.
The need to help others and to find help for ourselves are the foundation of this edition of SUCCESS. This is The Partnership Issue.
But I tend to combine Plato’s idea with another from the 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes, who said cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. In other words, because I can think and hear my own internal dialogue, I have proof of my own existence. Combined with Plato’s allegory, though, I cannot necessarily prove the existence of anyone or anything else. I cannot prove that my earthly body or my girlfriend or my car actually exist. They are the equivalent of the shadows on the wall of my cave. For all I can definitively say, I am the only cosmic mind that there is.
That’s a pretty mind-boggling, complicated thought, and an extremely lonely one… unless you combine it with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.
Kant devised the “categorical imperative.” As he put this law of man: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” That’s 18th-century German for “Just do good.”
If I am the only being that exists—or, if you, the person reading this, truly can think just like me—then what point is there to existence at all if not to do good? That’s what this magazine is for. We try to help you so that you can improve and nurture the capacity to extend that same goodness to others.
So we were drawn to Simon Sinek, our cover guy. He’s a modern-day philosopher of sorts, an author and speaker who believes that a leader’s job is to protect his or her people above all else. If you haven’t read his stuff, you may know him from one of the biggest viral videos in recent memory—his talk on millennials from last winter. In it, he didn’t lambaste this generation for all its issues like so many others have. Instead he talked about how other generations can help millennials.
The need to help others and to find help for ourselves are the foundation of this edition of SUCCESS. This is The Partnership Issue. In the magazine and on this month’s SUCCESS Talks podcasts, you’ll find plenty of expanded ideas on how to overcome generational differences, many from Sinek himself. But there are also lessons in communication, positive psychology and self-nurture, all of them crucial if your philosophy is so simple as to “just do good.”
And really, why should it be any more complicated than that?
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.