Being a chess piece in others’ games.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
Almost all of us will play the role of a chess piece for some portion of our lives.
When another person or group requires you to follow a specific path, execute a plan, or take an action as part of a larger strategic goal, you are playing the role of a chess piece.
Almost everybody within a hierarchical organization, whether they are corporate employees, school teachers, or factory workers, is playing the role of a chess piece that is just one component within a larger strategy. Your capabilities or resources determine how appropriate you are for a particular chess move. There is little getting away from this reality, as even when you think you are acting independently, such as buying items at a store, you are actually playing a role that others need you to play.
Strategic decisions made at lower levels are viewed as tactical decisions from higher levels. The metaphor of a chess piece should not imply that you are as lifeless and passive as a wooden chess piece. The role or path that others need you to take will often require thinking and deciding on the details of your part of the game, but they are details nonetheless and are smaller in scope than the strategic decision that requires this role from you.
You may even have others playing as chess pieces to meet your strategic goals. However, these goals themselves are the chess moves that you need to make, as determined by the strategies of others. Therefore, the role of the chess piece can be a recursive phenomenon, where you are both a chess piece in one strategy required by others and, at the same time, a strategist who needs to create a strategy and assign roles to other people who will play out your plan.
Upon first glance, the notion that you are merely a pawn in a game orchestrated by others may seem like a violation of your autonomy. It may appear that being used as a tool or a mere chess piece to carry out the wishes of others contradicts the ideals that we strive to achieve. Perhaps our ultimate aspiration in life should be to avoid ever being relegated to the role of a chess piece again.
Even if it were possible to never play a role in a strategy set by others, it does not seem like a good idea in general. We usually agree voluntarily to play such a role in exchange for some other benefit. For example, the money we receive as employees playing roles required by a corporation enables us to have freedom in other aspects of our lives. Our pay is used to fulfill other goals that we set for ourselves.
Perhaps the best way forward is simply to become more aware of the times when we play the role of a chess piece. In some cases, it may be better to accept this fact and identify with the role, while in other cases it may be best to question the need to play the role and to make a change.