Approach and Observation

By Ali H. Bukhari

July 9, 2021 07:25 PM

It’s 1863. The American Civil War is at its peak. Amongst the most prominent conflicts, one is about to take place in Chancellorsville, where Confederate General Robert Lee and the Commander of Union Army, Joe Hooker, are on the opposing sides. Lee, known for his military tactics, sharp mind, and intelligence, has won several battles for his army as he is brilliant in analysing military tactics and is renowned for his abrupt decisions in difficult situations. However, Hooker is not a lesser opponent by any stretch of the imagination. His artillery and armaments are the best of all. His humongous armed force has never led him to failure in any of his military endeavours. He is proud of his men, especially their spying capabilities. 

The battleground is occupied by the two armies, with Hooker leading a force of 34,000 men and Lee commanding a force of 21,000. Hooker, with the help of his spies, can learn about all the weaknesses of his opponent. He has a bundle of information to work with. Moreover, to surprise Lee’s army, Hooker has divided his into two factions. The second half is assigned to attack the rival from their rear during the battle.

These characteristics of the battle make it quite easy for someone to infer the winning side. But there is a twist on its way. Hooker’s men capture a deserter of Lee’s army. He spills out a piece of very important information, that Lee’s army is about to receive massive reinforcement from another Confederate General. Hooker, terrified and confused, doubting all the information he collected earlier, immediately orders his army to withdraw. As soon as Hooker’s men receive the order to step back on the battlefield, Lee divides his army into two and instructs one half to attack the positions where Hooker’s control is least vulnerable. Hooker’s army fails to resist the surprise attack. Lee, without any serious resistance, succeeds in the battle. So, did that deserter betray his army? No, he didn’t. He did exactly what Lee instructed him to do.

This anecdote from the American civil war has much for us to learn. Judgment and experience are two pearls of wisdom that cannot be bought but can only be gained through observations and lessons that we deduce from our experiences. Lee used his experience to counter Hooker’s heavy artillery. Also, an excess of information can possibly lead an individual to disarray. As people often say “ignorance is bliss”. Lee had little information, but quite aptly took bold steps to achieve success. Hooker’s spy might have collected every bit of information for him, but such an overload will never allow you to concentrate on a single goal. Had there been less data, hooker might have remained focused and not become confused.

Globalization has brought the whole world to just a click away. We have access to every bit of information. Irrespective of any field or genre, we can seek anything, anywhere. Howbeit, the problem is the excess of data, which has dragged us into an illusion of knowledge where we do not know what is useful to us and what is surplus to our needs. This state of turmoil has omitted the concept analysis and critical thinking from our lives. Also, it could be deduced from the event discussed that human “instinct”, too, is one of its kind. Listening to your conscience, and adhering to it, is what Lee did in Chancellorsville.

Psycho-analysts believe that in an instance, where you have an important decision to make, and the pressure of people’s advice is burdening your brain, you should push the whole burden aside and listen to your heart, for it knows exactly how you wish to proceed with the matter. In order for us to be able to do that, we must learn to talk to ourselves. If that does not work, pen down the pros and cons of your decision. Put both of the lists in front of you and then ask yourself.

Sigmund Freud takes us a step further. He believed that for every little decision, we must keenly consider gains and losses. But for major decisions, we must simply believe our instincts, and without considering anything we must act on them, without any hesitation. Here is such an example worth discussing.

In his book “The Happiness Equation”, Neil Pasricha talks about one of his old school friends, who worked at a multi-national bank in a senior post, in New York. He narrates that his friend was a bright and brilliant student since his childhood, and had no chance of being rejected by institutions like Howard or Oxford for future studies. However, he decided to take admission in a not-so-well renowned institution. When Neil inquired about the reason behind the decision, his friend’s response left him with a life-long lesson. He stated that as he got acceptance from a handsome number of universities, he decided to travel to each of them, choose a bench, and sit there while observing the surroundings, the atmosphere, and the people of the institution. Neil’s friend believed that a student spends most of his time not inside, but outside the classrooms. So one must consider an environment that matches his own instinct and motives, for whatsoever he has to learn throughout his college years, is to be more greatly absorbed from the surroundings than from the classrooms. The institution his friend chose had an environment that he instinctively believed could be the best for what he really wished to achieve. That’s one of the reasons behind his friend’s success in his career.

Life is all about surprises. It’s a fact. But these surprises give us much to learn as well. Big decisions are just like a big jump from one corner to the other, with a pit in-between. The individual has to try to understand the situation, take a deep breath, believe in himself, and jump without any hesitation. It’s not really that difficult for one to make a decision. “Overthinking” makes it difficult for us to reach a final decision. We look around for help, for somebody to push us towards an appropriate solution. Nevertheless, if we, instead of looking around for help, look inside ourselves, we will find a greater source of support than anybody else could offer. Thus, if it’s your life, why should the power of decision reside in the control of others? If it’s your drive, why should the steering wheel be in somebody else’s hands?

Written By

Ali H. Bukhari

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