Monday, November 5, 2007

Book Review: The Gift of Fear

I just recently finished reading The Gift of Fear, Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence by Gavin DeBecker. Like so much of what I've read lately, it was recommended by something that I read on some blog somewhere.

Most of my life, I've been of the opinion that it's silly to spend time worrying about the senseless violence that seems to happen so randomly and so often. As a college student in Chicago, I learned the various common-sense things that generally keep a young lady safe in the big city. And it should be noted that I did just fine, as do lots other people.

The main point of this book is that by denying to ourselves that humans have the capacity for violence, we set ourselves up to be victims of it. Most often, the acts of violence that seem so senseless and unavoidable are neither. With a knowledge of how certain situations escalate to violence and a willingness to listen to your intuition, you really can save yourself a lot of grief.

My favorite part of this book is the last chapter in which the author describes the difference between fear and worry. The first can be a powerful motivator to self-preservation. The second is pretty much worthless and keeps you from being able to assess any actual threats that might present themselves. With the number of people I've met who carry their fear around like a magic talisman, it was worth reading this whole book for the final chapter alone.

One of the other things that really caught my interest was what to do with stalkers. I've known some people who have been stalked by exes, and WOW do we all have a very poor sense of what to do to make them go away. The common wisdom of changing phone numbers and getting restraining orders is almost always a bad idea, and DeBecker explains why. Keep your old phone number and hook it up to an answering machine, and get a new phone number that you give to people you actually want to hear from. Save stalker messages as evidence for police. A restraining order is a piece of paper that can lend a false sense of security, and may even incite a stalker to violence. If nothing else, I recommend this section as a dating guide.

I have now managed to lose the page, but at one point DeBecker makes the point that dating is a game of high stakes predicting already. It makes sense to also do some thoughtful predicting about violence as well. Having seen one friend in a violent relationship, I agree wholeheartedly.

This book also discusses workplace hazards. From this I learned that it's best to really check references. Every time. And check thoroughly. If you do that, you greatly reduce your chances of making the news as part of a workplace shooting. And, if there's someone being weird it's a good idea to get them out sooner rather than later, before they build up enough motivation to be violent.

Learning about predictable violence is actually very comforting. I feel like I have better information about staying safe as I wander around in the world. I hope my review has at least sparked your interest enough for you to check this book out at the library. To quote the title of an aptly named Flannerey O'Connor short story, "The life you save may be your own."

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