14 January, 2006

Review: The Gift of Fear

By Gavin De Becker

Alright, reviewing this book on this blog is probably out of character for me. I haven't been doing this long enough to be sure, but let's assume that it is. The Gift of Fear was a wake-up call for me, and made a big impression. I am going to review it here because I think it is highly important at one level, and pretty important at another.

The highly important level is that most men I know believe women are a little paranoid. If you are a man, and you have had that thought, you should read this book. It profoundly changed my views on female paranoia. (I cannot find some of the quotes I am going to give here, so they might be from memory.) When a man and a woman meet in a parking lot at night, the man is afraid the woman will laugh at him. The woman is afraid the man will kill her. I know De Becker's right, and so do you. The bottom line is ...women visit emergency rooms for injuries caused by their husbands or boyfriends more often than for injuries from car accidents, robberies, and rapes combined.

Guys, we need to start taking the fears of our sisters to heart. They are founded fears. There is a section in the book that explains how the "interview" process of a criminal sizing up a victim works. De Becker briefly mentions that these same techniques are also used by men trying to introduce themselves to a women. Can you imagine the confusion this must create for the woman trying to figure out what "this" man is doing?

Women, reading this book will help you, too. There is a certain creep-out factor in hearing that bad things really do happen, and how, and why, and when, and how often. I found that the book made me paranoid for a little while. That wears off, though, and what is left is good information. The book will tell you how to dump an overly persistent man, (A man always hears less than is said, and a woman always says less than she means. Is it any wonder that "letting him down easy" never works,) how to know when you are being sized up for a crime, and how to let your fear tell you what to do when it matters. It is not a book on self defense, though. It is a book that will free you to do what you already know how to do.

The second level at which this book is important is that it explicitly rejects denial as a life-strategy - for everyone.

The underlying foundation of De Becker's book is that you were made [by God] with a brilliant, intuitive gift of fear. You know when and how to be afraid, and fear can give you the strength to react correctly when violence threatens. You know when and what to do, but you don't want to, so you deny your instincts. You don't want to sound silly, or to take an action that might look wrong, so you tell yourself whatever story you need to hear to feign an excuse to ignore your responsibility. You deny God's gift of fear, and you willingly place yourself or others in the path of violent men. (And, yes, it is violent men. It not violent women, so to say anything less is yet another denial.)

... the reporter ends with: "Officials concede that no one could have predicted this would happen." That's because we want to believe that people are infinitely complex, with millions of motivations and varieties of behavior. It is not so. ... We want to believe that human violence is somehow beyond our understanding, because as long as it remains a mystery, we have no duty to avoid it, explore it, or anticipate it. ... but in service of these comfortable myths, victims suffer, and criminals prosper.

It is by our collective denial that violence continues to increase.

I would argue that this kind of denial is at work in many, many areas of our lives. We deny that our church is headed for a crisis. We deny that our marriages are headed there. We deny that a brother or sister is depressed, and needs someone to spend serious time with him or her. We deny that a child is at risk in a family.

Denial works. We use it as a strategy in our lives, because it delivers what we are seeking. We seek a feeling of wellness, and denial provides it, at the cost of 1) background stress in our lives, because subconsciously we know better, and 2) actual damage when whatever we are denying comes to pass. Of course, even then the strategy works, because we can say, "Nobody could have guessed this was going to happen," implying that had there been any way to know, we would have gotten up off our butts and done something about it.

It is time we accept responsibility for the things we see and fear.

When you are done with this book, you will know what the precursors to workplace violence are, why school-place violence happens, why women are victimized, how stalkers and assassins think, and why restraining orders often have the opposite effect of that desired. You will also know which anxiety signals your mind sends you can safely ignore (and why it might be sending them) and why you must attend to true fear signals when they come.

It is not gifted prose, but it is an interesting read. The middle third of the book slogged pretty badly for me, but the beginning and end were both excellent.

1 comment:

eclexia said...

I have the sequel to this book, Protecting the Gift, picked up a few years ago for no other reason than it was in the Dollar Tree, which meant I could afford it :)
It has influenced my thinking in some good ways. I like what he says about teaching children healthier, intuitive and wiser approaches to life than the classic "Don't talk to strangers".

Also, I think if we made at least a little bit more space to listen to our natural fears, we might find ourselves, ultimately, a whole lot less fearful (and, I would venture to say, able to have our boundaries drawn a whole lot closer, more defined by ourselves, instead of having to set them "way out there" in general, comprehensively protective ways, though I'd also venture to say that the "comprehensive protection" is not nearly so comprehensive as it might seem)