Student Blog: Exploring Identity through African Authenticity and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

The Seminal Readings course forms a special part of the ALU student experience. For six weeks in a student’s first year, the community dives into intense readings and provocative discussion. In the process, they sharpen their critical thinking and analysing skills and explore questions that all leaders grapple with. In the first two weeks of Seminal Readings the entire community pauses – there are no classes or other responsibilities – and students immerse themselves in the course and come together as an intellectual community. Each day this week, students will share reflections on the texts and their Seminal Readings journey.

It’s Day two of Seminal Readings and we continue our analysation of texts and small group discussions. Today we looked at two very different texts: African “Authenticity” and the Biafran Experience by Chimamanda Adichie and the Allegory of the Cave by Plato. Much like the ones we looked at yesterday, these selected chapters explore our identity as a whole and the way we perceive the world around us.

Adichie’s African “Authenticity” and the Biafran Experience focuses on the ways in which stereotypes affect the way people see other parts of the world as well as the process through which she wrote her book, Half of a Yellow Sun which was inspired by the Biafran war in Nigeria. Adichie shows us the various instances in life where perceptions can block us from actual facts. We pondered and began to ask ourselves: why do people use stereotypes and how can we break away from such stereotypes as human beings to know who we really are?

Plato’s Allegory, however had a different approach. Plato used a cave to describe the various situations we find ourselves in and the perceptions we have of certain things. The cave, as we discovered it also depicted our minds and the thoughts we have of the world around us. That is all we know until we are exposed to different situations and thoughts of others. This is what he referred to as the “light.” After being exposed, we need to decide for ourselves as humans whether to go back to our caves, and bring others out to experience this same light. At the beginning of the discussion, some of us were a bit confused because we did not even know whether or not we were in caves. Neither did we know the relevance of knowing about our caves as leaders. But, after insightful conversations and questions in the group, we all began to understand that as leaders, we must know who we are before we can even lead others. We must also understand that as leaders, we need to be openminded and expose ourselves to the light, so we can help the ones we want to influence.

One thing I particularly enjoyed from the discussions was that we were able to apply the various skills we have acquired in Entrepreneurial Leadership and Communicating For Impact classes to aid our understanding of our identities. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s readings will bring!

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