Alternate Perspectives: Trying to Think from the Other Side of the Hill

By Greenberg, William | Military Review, May/June 2013 | Go to article overview

Alternate Perspectives: Trying to Think from the Other Side of the Hill


Greenberg, William, Military Review


THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE reflects the feelings of Ulysses S. Grant during his first engagement in the Civil War. During the run up to the engagement, Grant thought about the Confederate enemy only from his own perspective, never really wondering how the enemy commander might be thinking about the upcoming battle:

As we approached the brow of the hill from which it was expected we could see Harris' camp, and possibly find his men ready formed to meet us, my heart kept getting higher and higher until it felt to me as though it was in my throat. I would have given anything then to have been back in Illinois, but I had not the moral courage to halt and consider what to do; I kept right on. When we reached a point from which the valley below was in full view, I halted. The place where Harris had been encamped a few days before was still there and the marks of a recent encampment were plainly visible, but the troops were gone. My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards. From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy, though I always felt more or less anxiety. I never forgot that he had as much reason to fear my forces as I had his. The lesson was valuable.1

As Grant and his regiment crested the hill, and looked down below upon an empty enemy camp, it dawned on him that he had never taken the alternate perspective, looking at the situation from the enemy commander's view.

Most people are barely conscious of the cultural factors and biases that control their own actions. Culture is an overwhelming force, one that forms mental models that ultimately guide most of our actions. Culture also has a tendency to narrow our thought processes to the point that we believe most people think as we do and view a problem as we would. Trying to break out of the "cultural cocoon" that guides our actions and look at a situation from another person's perspective is difficult. However, the ability to do so is crucial to understand how others will act in a given situation.

In organizations that conduct some form of red teaming activity, looking at alternate perspectives of the enemy and other actors in the operational environment improves decision making.2 This article examines two commanders who gained insight into the the enemy's perspective to achieve success on the battlefield.

Try to Understand the Hated Enemy

Gaining the perspective of one's enemy, especially if he comes from a different society and culture, is a daunting task. In classical Greece, one great commander developed such an insight into his enemy while absolutely despising its society. In the early fourth century BCE, having defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian War and expanded her direct influence throughout Greece, Sparta (known as Lacedaemon) dominated the Hellenic world. The Spartan oligarchy did this through a confederation of allies funded with Persian gold. Using its military might, Sparta forced numerous cities throughout Greece into their coalition. Sparta's rule enforced a conservative oligarchy like their own in each of the city-states among its allies, conditions abhorrent to democratically minded factions that had formerly dominated in Attica and Boeotia.

Thebes was the major city-state in Boeotia, the northern region of Greece south of Macedonia and Thessaly. Sparta came to dominate Thebes in 382 BCE, when a Spartan general, Phoebidas, installed a pro-Sparta oligarchic regime in place of the democratically elected council. One of the leaders of the anti-Spartan faction, Epaminondas, then organized a revolt against the regime and, in 378 BCE, cleared Thebes of all pro-Sparta forces.

Over a six-year period, the Spartan forces tried to retake the city but were rebuffed each time. During his protracted defense of Thebes, Epaminondas grew to hate every aspect of Sparta's xenophobic culture as well as their political oligarchy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Alternate Perspectives: Trying to Think from the Other Side of the Hill
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.