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Sample Response to Real GRE Issue Questions

Issue # 9: "It is primarily through identification through social groups that we define ourselves."

As primarily social animals, human beings naturally seek out different groups to which they feel they have a certain sense of belonging. But there are two different aspects of this issue involved: identifying oneself with a social group for its social implications and identifying oneself with a social group for internal needs. A person can have two different identities, one that involves an individual's self-perception and the way that others see that particular individual. There is a natural dichotomy between the two sides of one's personality that is usually displayed between the different types of social groups with which an individual may identify oneself.

Self-definition can either be honest or dishonest. A person may join a social group because he or she thinks that the people that belong to this type of group are the same as he or she, whether it is true or not. The important detail to the individual is that he or she would like to be the same as the people that belong to this particular social group. As one example, consider a person who grew up poor and poorly educated, but became wealthy through the luck of the lottery or an inheritance from an unknown but wealthy relative. This individual then joins a wine-tasting club and buys season tickets to the local Philharmonic Orchestra and opera house. Although this individual knows nothing about wine, orchestras or opera, he or she is seeking to identify him or herself as a culturally literate person simply because the person is now wealthy. Through joining these social groups, the individual is seeking to define him or herself as socially elite, although the only difference now is that the person has great wealth and in reality probably does not fit in with the other members of the groups. In this case, one's self-definition by identifying with social groups does not match up with how society still identifies the individual.

On the other hand, there are individuals that very clearly demonstrate who they are by their identification with certain social groups. At a very basic level, younger people may join gangs based on a sense of identification with certain gang members or gang ideas. By displaying different identifying tattoos or certain colors, these people clearly identify who they are and what they stand for by the particular to which they belong. Certain religious groups also give a clear identity to their members. Joining an Islamic fundamentalist group such as the Taliban or an Orthodox Jewish organization indicates a certain identity that is common to all of its members. Political organizations such as Greenpeace and the National Organization for Women also make a certain statement about the identity of an individual member. In all of these cases, an individual's self-perception and how others view that individual are probably very similar. These types of organizations speak to a person's very fundamental values and joining one is probably that person's way of saying to the world "this is who I am".

Joining other types of groups may or may not indicate a person's self-identification. Being a Republican or a Democrat, for example, may just be a matter of whichever party your parents belong to. Spending time with a particular group of friends may only mean that you like only one of the people in the group or you have nothing better to do, it may have nothing to do with your self-identification. People that belong to these groups do not necessarily belong to any one social group for identification purposes; it may be only a matter of convenience.

It depends on the individual and the particular social group under discussion as to whether we primarily identify ourselves through association with social groups. Once the individual or the social group has been identified, a determination must still be made as to whether the individual has joined for self-identification purposes or to impress upon others a certain image of that individual.

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