GMAT : Analysis of An Issue

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An Issue

38. Courtesy is rapidly disappearing from everyday interactions and as a result, we are all the poorer for it.


From your perspective, is this an accurate observation? Why or why not? Explain using reasons and / or examples from your own experience, observations or reading.


The speaker claims that simple courtesy and good manners are disappearing from modern life and that the quality of our lives is therefore deteriorating. While I do encounter frequent instances of discourtesy and bad manners, I also encounter many instances of the opposite behaviour. For this reason and because negative experiences tend to be more memorable and newsworthy, I find the speaker's claim to be dubious.

Most people encounter multiple instances of ordinary courtesy and good manners every day such as simple acts such as smokers asking whether anyone minds if they light up, people letting others with fewer items ahead in grocery-store lines and freeway drivers switching lanes to accommodate faster drivers or those entering via on-ramps. Admittedly, most people also encounter discourtesy or poor manners on a daily basis-people using obscene language in public places where young children are present and business associates intentionally ignoring phone calls to name a few. However, such acts do not prove that good manners and courtesy are disappearing. They simply show that both courtesy and discourtesy abound in everyday life. Thus, the claim that courtesy and good manners are disappearing grossly distorts reality.

Another reason that the claim is suspect is that we tend to remember negative encounters with people more so than positive ones, probably because bad experiences tend to be more traumatic and sensational, if not more interesting to talk about. The news stories that the media chooses to focus on certainly support this rationale. However, the fact that we remember, hear about and read about discourtesy more than about courtesy shows neither that discourtesy is increasing nor that courtesy is decreasing. It simply shows that negative experiences leave stronger impressions and tend to be more sensational. In fact, I suspect that if one were to tally up one's daily encounters with both types of behaviours, one would conclude that good manners and courtesy are far more prevalent than the opposite behaviour.

In conclusion, the speaker's claim that common courtesy and good manners are disappearing is not born out by everyday experience. I suspect the speaker has failed to consider that negative experiences leave stronger impressions on our memory and are more interesting to relate to others than positive ones.

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