Lessons from a lowly pawn

Just a pawn. I suspect that you have come across this phrase that has often been used to denote relative worthlessness, or diminished value. The thing is, it is borrowed from chess (no, this article is not about chess so read on): life’s alter ego. Standing next to the monarch, the mighty queen, rooks, knights or bishops, the pawn’s diminutive nature doesn’t help its cause. Matters are made worse when numeric values are attached to each of these pieces: 9 for the queen, 5 for the rook, 3 for the knights and Bishop, 1,000 for the King…and just 1 for the pawn. It is then easy to understand why many would consider the pawn worthless and hence the phrase.

But then an interesting thing happens when you talk to chess super grand masters. Only 101 people in the history of the world have ever attained a chess rating of 2700 and above: a level associated with supreme understanding of the game of chess. To them, pawns are extremely important. It is said that we should not judge books by their covers and the same applies to pawns. We begin to see some redemption when we look further into the properties of the chess pieces. It turns out that a pawn has two unique properties that no other piece on the board has: one, it cannot move backwards and two, in a maximum of six moves or five, a pawn can transform into any of the other pieces on the board, including the queen! In addition, standing next to each other, pawns have the potential to form a chain and fortress on the chess board. They build the infrastructure around which every other element of chess revolves. In this light, chess masters consider strategic pawn moves with weight far greater than the moves of other pieces.

To the weak chess player, it’s just a pawn to the master, pawns are the soul of chess. But this article is not about chess, it is about life. On the chess board, the queen didn’t choose to be a queen, it just found itself thus, so did the rook. Such is life. It is easy to look down on the least in society and imagine that we are better or that they are not honourable or worthy of respect. But as is true with the idiocy of the rook that disrespects the pawn only to see it turn to a queen to which he has to bow later, there is close to zero wisdom in disrespecting other human beings based on societal standing.

The thing with life is this: circumstances change. One season, one is at the top in another, they are not. One season, a person is struggling, another he is favoured. None of these change the innate value of a human being. It is great wisdom to extend great respect to each person alive as none of us knows the true worth of the least of men and women. The very gauge by which we determine worthiness is itself faulty. It is why we could hardly notice a humble, honest but poor and starving lady, maybe even look down upon her, while we sing and defend a rich thief, whose riches have come from stealing from an entire country: a country to which we belong.

Talking of relative worth, I once watched a president talk down to judges and members of the judiciary. It was clear that the president did not hold them in high regard, nor was he interested in any of the issues they had raised with regards to making the judicial system better. Here’s the problem: this president was on his second term. In a few years, he would be off the board and these “pawns” will be the judges with him on the dock on civil matters, and maybe more.

What we see today is not immortal. What promises a better outcome in any game of chess is to project today’s events into the future and act in accordance with what makes that future promising. Disregarding that future could be the biggest mistake one could make. That is why when a chess master looks at a pawn, he sees a potential queen, while a novice or a charlatan, sees…. JUST A PAWN!

What are some of the pawns around you?

Beyond that, there is a greater truth to life: a greater purpose. You may not agree, but the purpose of this is not to convince you but to state what I know. The choice of whether to accept what I have written in this paragraph as truth or not is entirely yours. The ever divisive 45th president of the United States said of the late John Dingell, deceased husband of Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell, “Maybe he’s looking up! Maybe, but let’s assume he’s looking down.” Euphemism. Looking down from heaven and looking up from hell. May the decisions you make today bear consideration for the ultimate future. I suspect that the true masters in life look beyond life itself, and make decisions today based on that view, knowledge and wisdom.

Many chess masters struggle with convincing novices of the value of pawns, not now but in the future. Many struggle with understanding the value of the small things in life today: humility, integrity, respect, love…time, and the least of us, by the narrow gauge we use that measure riches and influence.

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