GRE Issue Essay 186
“It is primarily through our identification with social groups that we define ourselves.”
The identity of a person is his characteristics, features or beliefs that help in distinguishing him from others. It gives the answer to a stranger who is unknown to you and thus helps in defining your persona. However, one wonders what the best definition of a person would be. I believe the definition of a person depends upon the people he is interacting with. While superficially we can identify ourselves with social groups in order to define ourselves, a deeper definition becomes explicit, giving importance to ndividual identity within a social group. Holding this view, I agree with the statement only partially, and I would like to add that a person does not only define himself by identifying with a social group but also by his personal characteristics that differ from others’.
People are generally a part of some social group or the other. This social group can be identified for its distinct characteristics from another and these characteristics help the person define his personality. This is the definition of an individual as taken in the superficial sense. For example, if a student visits a foreign country for an exchange program, he refers to himself according to his nationality, which is the social group he belongs to. In an international beauty contest, we have different contestants from various parts of the world and they are referred to as Miss Africa, Miss Venezuela etc. Sometimes an individual is a part of more than two social groups at the same time. That means that a person can be a Christian as well as an Indian. Belonging to a social group helps to identify peculiar characteristics of a person with the members of the same group and distinguish from those of another. It is not only a matter of convenience to refer to the broader social groups that a person belongs to but also the only thing that significantly distinguishes a person from others.
On the other hand, I hold that the true definition of a person lies in what he is when he stands as a single unit, without attaching himself to any social group. It is this definition of the self which is more important and detailed when it comes to the description of a person. For example, if a person goes for an interview for a job and is asked to define himself, he would have to bring out his personal definition by introducing himself by his name. Further, the employer would like to know his personal achievements, interests, experiences and skills. It would not matter to him if the candidate belongs to any social group. Similarly, the personal achievements of people like Newton and Graham Bell is what helps to define them.
Further, the view expressed in the statement also does not help to define a person who does not belong to any social group. There could be many people who are not socially active and thus do not identify themselves with any group in particular. The statement does not help in defining these people who however may establish their personal identities.
In the end I would like to conclude that defining a person by identifying him with a social group only defines him on a superficial scale. However, on a detailed scale, it is the personal characteristics, interests, sex, achievements, skills and ideas that make a person different from the other.