Kirsten's Reviews > The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
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Sep 24, 08

bookshelves: non-fiction, psych-and-neuroscience, borrowed
Recommended for: just about everyone
Read in September, 2008, read count: 1

The more I think about this book, the more impressed I feel with how useful it is. So often, information about avoiding danger that is given to people, particularly women, is unhelpful, dangerous, sexist, and/or serves only to feed into paranoia.

De Becker, in contrast, draws a strong distinction between the culture of fear that we live in (where TV news and email forwards cultivate fear of dangers that are unlikely to occur), and fear as an instinctive tool one can use to protect oneself. He points out repeatedly that there is a difference between helpful fear and anxiety/worry, and that one must learn to quell the voices of paranoia that (for example) tell one that every individual walking down the street is a potential attacker, so that when one encounters someone who actually is a potential attacker, one can "hear" one's fear.

In addition to advising the reader to listen to his/her fear, de Becker also gives helpful tips regarding behaviors to watch for. Does someone refuse to accept "no" for an answer, after it's clearly stated? Do they seek to allay your discomfort by creating camraderie where there is none (using a lot of "we" statements)? Do they seem overly interested, or supply way too many details for someone you've just met?

De Becker doesn't just focus on encounters with strangers or near-strangers (such as dates one has just met). He also spends a great deal of time discussing domestic abuse and child abuse and the way fear functions in these relationships. There is also a great deal of information on workplace violence and ways it can be avoided, which should be required reading for any manager or hiring officer. The only time the book seemed somewhat irrelevant was in the later chapters, where de Becker discusses celebrity stalking and assasinations/assasination attempts. These chapters are interesting from a human behavior standpoint, but are less readily applicable.

Overall, I would recommend this to everyone, but particularly to women like me who sometimes have trouble balancing safety with the desire not to let anxiety rule their lives.
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