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GRE Issue 78: People's Attitudes Are Determined More By Their Immediate Situation - With A Free Essay Review
Prompt: “People's attitudes are determined more by their immediate situation or surroundings than by society as a whole. Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.”
The statement claims that people’s attitudes are determined more by their immediate situation or surroundings than by society as a whole. It seems true that people’s attitudes are determined directly by their immediate surroundings. From children to adolescent to adults, our attitudes are influenced by our parents, teachers as well as friends. However, these people who shape our attitudes are products of a concrete society. So, people’s attitudes are also decided by societies. Therefore, these two forces shape our minds simultaneously and mutually, and it is hard for us to evaluate which play a more significant role in determining people’s attitudes.
People around us determine our attitudes to a large extent. They not only make us happy, angry or sad, but also influence our values gradually. As a result, our attitudes are decided when our moods and values change. For instance, we become excited and even crazy as soon as our most favorite stars appear on the stage; we become so frightened when a robber with a gun pops up. These immediate situations affect considerably our emotions, which is likely to determine our attitudes today. In addition, our parents and teachers always instructed us to set right values, telling us that we should cherish our lives no matter what difficulties we would encounter. These words have an optimistic influence on our attitude towards lives. Or consider the situations in which we make friends with our classmates. In some cases, we begin smoking only because some of our friends smoke at first. Therefore, during numerous interactions with different people, we have our habits or values more or less forced upon us by parents, teachers and friends, which eventually determines our attitudes.
Admittedly, immediate situation or surroundings impact our attitudes greatly, but we cannot ignore the social influence on our attitudes. It is because everyone, ranging from young and old, is the product of a concrete society. All of us share the same attitudes in some respects, which is the result of social environment. Chinese people during the Culture Revolution are an excellent example of this point. At that time, people’s attitude toward other foreign countries, especially America, were more or less fatuous since they considered everything relevant with Western countries dirty and meaningless. This phenomenon was largely caused by contemporary social environment in which government authorities adopted policies of social closure. On the contrary, after reforming and opening-up policy being carried out, Chinese people have become more sensible as well as learning valuable ideas from foreign countries. Therefore, this distinction illustrates that society as a whole determines people’s attitudes.
In conclusion, because people contact with different people everyday in their social circles, their attitudes are influenced by others’ behaviors and words. On the other hand, everyone is the component of a society. Their attitudes are more or less be restricted and shaped by social environment. Thus, it is hard for us to evaluate which play a more important role in determining people’s attitudes.
I find the examples of attitudes being shaped by our immediate situation less than compelling. The examples of the excitement at seeing a star on stage and of the fear when encountering a thief are too tangential to the main point under discussion. The essay is about attitudes, not reactions. I realise you claim there is a connection, but it would be better, I think, to talk directly about attitudes. Your next example is therefore better, but the “smoking” example seems a bit off, since that’s about habits we take up, not attitudes we develop. (You could perhaps talk about our attitude to smoking, however.) I think you should focus on more obvious examples. We have all kinds of attitudes about all kinds of things. We have attitudes to life, to death, to illness, to religion, to policies, to popular music, to Marxism and capitalism, to ideas about race, sexuality, sexual orientation, poverty, and so on. Where do these attitudes come from. Again, they could come from many places. We could be influenced by our friends, our parents, our school, or by the books we read, the entertainment we consume, the news we watch, the speeches of politicians we hear, and so on. One way to look at the statement, as you rightly recognize, would be to ask whether there is something like a prevailing set of ideas and values that belong to society as a whole that determines the attitudes that we adopt, or whether we are more influenced by those political, social, familial, and other groups and organizations that we are closest to. (Of course, there is also the remote possibility that my attitudes stem from my purely personal contemplation of issues). I think it is probably the case that in a particular society there will be some ideas and values that are widely shared (i.e., independent of immediate situations or surroundings) and some that are locally determined.
Your essay makes a good argument about the relationship between “immediate surroundings” and “society as a whole.” Again, I’m unsure of the example. It seems to me that what you want to argue here is that what we learn from our immediate surroundings is in turn determined by society as a whole. The example does not clearly demonstrate that phenomenon, although the fact that we all share the same values, to some extent, would help you make that claim. But obviously if a government is dictating what gets taught in schools or communicated through news media, it makes sense to speak of society as a whole shaping our attitudes. You need to also consider the possibility that attitudes to certain things can differ from place to place. In many societies, for instance, there are differences in attitudes to religion between cities and villages.
I can see why this is a difficult prompt, and as you note in the comment below, it is similar to the prompt about whether we “define ourselves” through “our identification with social groups.” One thing you can do when faced with a difficult prompt is to ask yourself what exactly the nature of the difficulty is. You can make that part of your essay; for instance, your introduction could explain the nature of the difficulty. (This is a difficult statement to evaluate because it is not clear what it means to define oneself ... )
In any case, you need to try to look at the role that identification with social groups plays in self-definition, whatever that is. Some options:
If you think we define ourselves in terms of beliefs or values, you might ask whether those values come from identifying with a group (a church, a political party, a community, a forum);
If you think we define ourselves in terms of allegiances, then the role of identifying with social groups would be more obvious.
If you think we define ourselves in terms of traits (carefree, good-humored, extrovert) etc., or if you think we define ourselves in terms of our accomplishments, then the role of identification with social groups might be less important or at least less obvious.
Perhaps one of the things you need also to tackle is whether our self-definition depends on our interaction with social groups or whether that interaction (the groups we choose to interact with) is based on a pre-existing definition of who we are.