The parable of the deluded pawn

Whenever I see the above image, it’s usually accompanied by some inspirational message or story. Something about power and confidence, and having the assertiveness to become a king or a queen and quit acting like a pawn.

That’s all well and good. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy thinking of such things. But it could be interpreted in a number of ways. Yes, the pawn could really be a king and the mirror is simply revealing that. Or, the pawn could, you know, actually be a pawn, and the mirror is distorting the reflection. The result of the pawn mistaking the distortion for reality is overconfidence, and consequently, pain. A pawn can pretend to be another piece on the chessboard. He can front and talk and run his mouth. But when it comes time to make a move, the disconnect between his actual ability and his talk will become apparent. It doesn’t matter how convincing the appearance is; action will strip away all falsity. 

The parable of the deluded pawn brings to mind this passage from Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic historical samurai novel, Musashi:

“ “Take a lesson from me, you spineless ass. You saw me return that certificate, didn’t you? If a man doesn’t have enough pride to do a thing like that, he’ll never be able to do anything on his own. But look at you! You use another man’s name, steal his certificate, go about living on his reputation. Could anything be more despicable? Maybe your experience tonight will teach you a lesson: a house cat may put on a tiger’s skin, but it’s still a house cat.” ” 

Or, alternatively, we can think of it in terms of confidence. Arrogance and timidity both represent mismatches of appearance and reality. In both cases, estimation of ability is out of step with actual ability. When you are confident, you neither over or under-estimate yourself. You know the extent of your strength. Put more succinctly: 

The arrogant overestimate, the timid underestimate, and the confident know the bounds of their own ability.

The pawn should know he’s a pawn. The king should know he’s a king. The house cat should know he’s a house cat and the tiger should know he’s a tiger. At all times, you should be aware of what you’re capable of and not deceive yourself, even if your capacity is far lower than what you desire it to be. Better to be aware of your weakness than deluded by your illusory strength.