Joining the match in progress

In the kitchen closest to my desk at Google, there’s an ongoing chess match. Anyone can walk by and make a move, and a game accumulates.

Yesterday I was contemplating a move when someone else stopped by. “Sometimes I show up and there’s, like, and exposed queen or something,” he said, “and I feel bad taking it. Like, I didn’t earn that.”

What my companion had stumbled on — along with a poorly played chess move — was a good metaphor for the experience of privilege: we drop into a game that’s already being played, and some of us discover that there are pieces just waiting for us to take them, while others find that we’re already down a couple pawns and in a terrible mess.

To put it another way: some of us are born forked, and some of us are born forking others.

We should be cautious about taking too much credit for finding ourselves in a good position, or casting too much blame on others for being in a bad one. Some humility is called for, and some compassion.

Life, however, is not a game of chess — the metaphor only goes so far. We can do our part to improve the board for everyone, and we should do what we can, even if we make just a few moves in a much larger game whose beginning is lost in time and whose end we will never see.