There is a wonderful short story by Anton Chekhov called ‘Overdoing it’. Here is an extract. . . .
It was dusk by the time the cart drove out of the station. On the surveyor’s right hand stretched a dark, endless, frozen plain. On the horizon, where it vanished and melted into the sky, there was the glow of a cold autumn sunset. The surveyor could not see what was in front as his whole field of vision on that side was covered by the broad clumsy back of the driver. The air was still, but it was cold and frosty.
“What a wilderness it is here,” thought the surveyor, “if, by ill-luck, one were attacked and robbed no one would hear you, whatever uproar you made. . . . And the driver is not one you could depend on. . . . Ugh, what a huge back! He has only to move a finger and it would be all up with one! And his ugly face is suspicious and brutal-looking.”
“Hey, my good man!” said the surveyor, “What is your name?”
“Well, Klim, what is it like in your parts here? Not dangerous? Any robbers on the road?”
“It is all right, the Lord has spared us. . . . Who should go robbing on the road?”
“It’s a good thing there are no robbers. But to be ready for anything I have got three revolvers with me,” said the surveyor untruthfully. “And it doesn’t do to trifle with a revolver, you know. One can manage a
dozen robbers. . . .”
It had become quite dark. The cart suddenly began creaking, squeaking, shaking, and, as though unwillingly, turned sharply to the left.
“Where is he taking me to?” the surveyor wondered. “He has been driving straight and now all at once to the left. I shouldn’t wonder if he’ll take me, the rascal, to some den of thieves . . . and. . . . Things like that do happen.”
“I say,” he said, addressing the driver, “so you tell me it’s not dangerous here? That’s a pity. . . I like a fight with robbers. . . . I am thin and sickly-looking, but I have the strength of a bull . . . . Once three robbers attacked me and what do you think? I gave one such a beating that. . . that he died, and the other two were sent to jail in Siberia. And where I got the strength I can’t say. . . . One grips a huge fellow of your sort with one hand and . . . wipes him out.”
The surveyor goes on in this manner till, to his great surprise, Klim rolls off the cart and runs away shouting . . .
“Help! Take the horse and the cart, you devil, only don’t take my life. Help!”
The surveyor then realises that the cart driver is as afraid of him as he is of the driver. It takes two hours of shouting and an explanation before the cart driver agrees to take the surveyor (now not afraid at all) to his destination.
I thought this story highlights how easily and how often we fall into the trap of under-evaluating and over-evaluating ourselves and other people.