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Expert Advice/Self-Help,  Non-Fiction

The Gift of Fear

Have you ever returned home, walked into your bedroom, and immediately sensed something was off? You can’t explain what it is exactly (Did I leave that light on when I left this morning? Did I leave the chair pulled out like that?) but you know someone has been in the room.

This is your intuition speaking. What I loved about this book is that it argues we should stop dismissing this inexplicable feeling and, instead, embrace it.

Intuition and Travel

Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

Having traveled alone extensively (as a young single woman), I do hear one question quite often: “Aren’t you scared?” 

I’ve even overheard people judging me in hushed tones when they think I can’t hear.

“She may be having fun now, but it only takes trusting one wrong person to end up dead…”

I love meeting new people. I believe most people are fundamentally good. And I wouldn’t have been able to navigate all these countries alone if it hadn’t been for the kindness of strangers. In short, this is the power of traveling by yourself. Your faith in humanity becomes full and wide.

But, probably to the surprise of some, I actually do take safety quite seriously. There are seemingly charming people I meet who I choose to distance myself from. There are some people I trust immediately, and some people I distrust immediately. I’ve never quite been able to explain this. I often catch myself shrugging and just telling people, “When you travel alone, you start to become a pretty good read on people.” 

Sometimes, the nice old man in Kashmir you stop for directions really just seems like he wants to walk over to the mosque with you to make sure you find it okay. Sometimes, the charming guy who offers to help you with your groceries really just seems like a creep.

This is what I loved about de Becker’s The Gift of Fear. Its main argument is that intuition is one of our greatest assets for survival. We don’t need to convince ourselves to be afraid all the time. We don’t need to dismiss our senses that “aren’t logical.” When we are listening to ourselves, our bodies will alert us to danger.

The Gift of Fear

Before you scoff and chalk Gavin de Becker up to some sort of new-age woo woo hippie, he is a well-known security specialist who works extensively with governments and public figures. Along with the US Marshals Service, he co-designed the MOSAIC Threat Assessment Systems and has provided expert testimony in many high-profile murder cases.

This is someone who has dedicated his life to identifying violent individuals. 

And his main message? Intuition is key.

What is Fear? 

Photo Credot: Alexandre Lallemand

Essentially, fear is your body warning you there is danger. It’s the full-body sensation that makes a mouse scurry under the couch to escape a hungry cat or that makes crowds stampede at the sound of gunshots. 

His argument is that fear is a built-in and useful feeling, just like hunger. It is there to save your life. The problem, de Gavin argues, is that most people ignore the feeling because they don’t understand it. Since they can’t apply logic to the feeling of fear, they dismiss and ignore it. 

“Unlike any other living creature, humans will sense danger yet still walk right into it.”

Gavin de Becker

De Becker argues this is a mistake. He says you don’t need to understand the feeling. The feeling is there because your mind has already acquired all the information it needs and essentially gotten you “to the finish line before the gun goes off.”

An example of this is a fatal shooting at a gas station robbery gone wrong. Looking back at the surveillance tape, the police notice a man drive up, get out, walk to the door of the gas station, turn around, walk back to his car, get in, and drive away. (Only a few minutes after that, an off-duty police officer entered and was shot by the spooked robber). 

When they asked the man who drove away and if he saw anything, he said no. He just had a terrible feeling and left.

This wasn’t magic. Rather, de Gavin explains: Likely, this man who narrowly avoided death noticed the suspicious-looking car still running in the parking lot (the getaway car), and when he looked inside the store, he likely saw the fear on the attendant’s face (despite not seeing the shooter). 

He didn’t understand these things at the time. His brain processed all the information so quickly, he got the signal of “get out” before it all even made sense. 

The man didn’t know there was a daytime robbery. He never saw a gun. But he knew something was wrong and listened.

Why I Resonated with The Gift of Fear

To be fair, this book at no point says you can avoid danger all the time, or if something bad happens to you, it’s your fault. At times, it walks the line of victim blaming but I do not think that is de Becker’s intention. Instead, he seems to want to empower people to walk away, say no, and listen to their gut despite living in a society that constantly tells people (especially women) that being nice and agreeable is more important than their intuition or fear.

“When a man says no, in this culture, it’s the end of the discussion. When a woman says no, it’s the beginning of a negotiation.”

Gavin de Becker

I liked this book because this idea of listening to your intuition something I have long believed but haven’t been able to verbalize. There have been a lot of situations where I haven’t listened to my gut and I’ve usually ended up regretting it. Recently, I have been spending time learning to separate my anxiety from my other (more useful) emotions. 

He encourages a behavoir I am a big proponent of: walking away and not engaging when someone seems to not respect your “no.” (I once wrote about “saying no.” I’ve since gotten better at it.)

He also takes time to explain the difference between real fear and worry or anxiety and takes time to look at the different kinds of factors that can lead a person to turn to violence. 

I honestly couldn’t put the book down. Considering this isn’t the type of book I normally read, I was surprised by how enthralling it was. It’s full of real scenarios and fascinating (yet scary) situations.

Plus, if you aren’t much of a reader, you can see his interview with Oprah!

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