It’s not every day that I hear about an almost twenty-year-old book from both Mrs. Julien and Amy Poehler. Yet that’s how I came to learn about The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Julien mentioned it in an offhand manner in a comment at some point. And then Amy Poehler cited it as her most-quoted reading material in Yes, Please. I didn’t realize it was written way back in 1997 until I went and found the book at the library. I was afraid I was going to find some out-dated, fearmongering tome urging women to not go out at night and hide away in gated communities because of the dangerous world we live in.
Instead, Gavin De Becker wrote a very practical book about the danger and violence we face in American society today. In fact, I kept looking back at the copyright page because The Gift of Fear felt so progressive and up-to-date. I couldn’t believe it was written in 1997. He addresses situations like Columbine and other mass shootings before they even happened, and his understanding of the aggressors, what makes them violent, and how to see it coming was incredibly insightful.
Gavin De Becker grew up in a violent household, but instead of falling into the cycle of violence, he became “the world’s leading expert on the prediction and management of violence.” [Wikipedia] His security company helps celebrities, governments, and corporations deal with disgruntled employees, crazy stalkers, and potential assassins. Because of his many years of experience, De Becker’s book is littered with examples and anecdotes of real-life stories that underscore many of his lessons and keep his book fascinating, if a little disturbing. Although every once in a while, The Gift of Fear felt like an advertisement for his company, it was effective. If I had a stalker and some money, I’d definitely hire De Becker.
Gavin De Becker focuses on a number of different topics that affect our safety. He discusses attacks by strangers, domestic violence, children who murder their parents, stalkers, employee violence, and assassins. He is clear about the frequency of these attacks and which ones are most likely to affect us. He notes how the media worsens violent situations in a couple of ways. First, the media almost always gets reports from neighbors saying the perp seemed like a nice, quiet guy and the violence “came from nowhere.” Yet he points out that the violence almost never comes from nowhere. Perpetrators usually have a violent childhood as well as previous violent offenses. Second, in the case of assassins, the media should stop glorifying killers–putting them on the cover of magazines and delving into their lives like they’re some kind of misunderstood hero because it just encourages other assassins.
De Becker also tries to persuade the reader to let go of worry that doesn’t help you. “This is fairly simple since, as I noted above, real fear occurs in the presence of danger and will always easily link to pain or death.” (285) For instance, if you are a woman walking alone, it is a waste of energy to be afraid of every man you run into. It can even distract you from real dangers. If you are in an elevator and a man gets on at a different floor (which means he wasn’t following you) and he doesn’t engage with you, then he is an unlikely threat. On the other hand, if a man approaches you, insisting he help you with something, and doesn’t take no for an answer, he’s more likely to be a danger to you. De Becker discusses how women are taught to not be rude, but he encourages women to be aggressive about their safety and not care what others think–again, refreshingly progressive.
“It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different–men and women live in different worlds. I don’t remember where I first heard this simple description of one dramatic contrast between the genders, but it is strikingly accurate: At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.” (65)
The Gift of Fear was a fascinating and exacting look into violence in our society. It was refreshing to read a more realistic view–one supported by evidence and statistics, rather than the hysteria that surrounds much of the news reports on this kind of thing. Definitely recommended.