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  Attitude (derived from Latin aptitudo, ‘fitness’), when a quality of mind, is restricted entirely to the human race. Other creatures strike poses and follow particular sequences of action, but they seem, without exception, to be instinctive. When a cat stalks or a bowerbird displays, it seems not to be the result of considered choice, as it would be if a human being did so. There are some grey areas—dolphins ‘playing’ with or near humans, for example, or pets apparently modifying their behaviour to suit their owners\' moods. But given the way wild dogs, for example, behave towards those higher up in the pack-hierarchy, even such responses to humans may be no more than instinct. A famous experiment in the early years of this century showed that ‘Clever Hans’, a horse which apparently added or subtracted numbers, tapping the answers with one hoof, was in fact merely responding to subliminal ‘cues’ from its trainer\'s body language, of which even the trainer was unaware.

Human beings behave instinctively in similar ways. But we are conscious of the world in a way other animals are not. We continuously review a range of responses to the situations we face. We plan, initiate and control events. We can project our minds into the past and the future, replacing actuality with imagination. The sum of all this is attitude. We constantly see ourselves, imagine ourselves, judge ourselves—no other creatures do this—and we modify our behaviour accordingly. Our behaviour is an intellectual construct, subject to the processes of reason. (Not to behave rationally, for us, is a rational choice.)

It can be argued that attitude is the vital component in every human activity, from democratic decision-making to the writing of poetry, from making love or making war to making gloves. Our decision to explore and explain our environment was initially narcissistic, and it is on that choice that the whole edifice of human knowledge, and much human fantasy, is built. Critics of the Arts talk of attitude as if it were a special quality of creative dancers, musicians, writers and so on. They look for (say) an author\'s ‘stance’ to his or her material, or a performer\'s ‘stance’ towards the audience; they consider influences and strategies, in an attempt to unpack the hidden attitudes within the work, and thus to refine our (the audience\'s) attitude towards that work. But this is merely one refined (some would say over-refined) response to the fact of attitude in all human activity. Newton\'s or Einstein\'s work sprang from and depended on attitude just as much as did Hiroshige\'s or Beethoven\'s—or indeed, to move into more controversial areas, Buddha\'s or Christ\'s. The further human experience moves on, the more past experience we have to survey and this availability of all past human culture, and the range of present options it presents, are another possession unique to our species, at once our comfort and our glory. In short, to return to the root meaning of the word, attitude is what ‘fits’ us for what we are, and do, in the world. And the corollary is obvious: that if we behave in such a way as to wipe our species off the planet forever, that too is attitude, not instinctive or inbuilt behaviour but the result of choice. KMcL



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