Have you ever read, seen or heard any news about violent crimes in your city? Of course you have. In fact, there’s a good chance that you come across such news pieces quite frequently in some form or the other. Whether it’s through news updates on our smartphones, a news feed on a social media platform, a forward on one of the multiple WhatsApp groups that we are on, or the headlines on major news channels and newspapers, we’re constantly surrounded by crime-related news of some kind.
You wouldn’t even be faulted to occasionally think that we’re living in a world that has violence and crime at its core. And if our naturally developed fears of the smaller things like swimming, flights and heights weren’t already enough to drive us up the wall, the external fears of everything associated with violent crimes certainly will. With the number of news outlets showcasing the increasing number of violent crimes across the world, like the recent stabbing attack in Paris, it seems like we live in a world that tends to instil more and more fear in us, every day.
Now, would you believe me if I told you about a tool that can help you protect yourself, and may be even others around you from any kind of potential violence? How fast would you run out to buy yourself one? Now, what if I told you that this special tool is something that you already have? Something that you’ve had since you were born, in fact. A tool that world-renowned security expert, Gavin de Becker calls, ‘the gift of fear’, which is also the title of his book that spent four months on The New York Times bestseller list. It is a book that demonstrates how each and every individual is born with an inherent gift. The gift of ‘gut instinct’ that can manifest itself in the form of fear, which if recognized, and more importantly, if trusted and acted on, can be a powerful means to help you protect yourself from potential violence.
Before anything else, it’s important to recognize your fear for what it is, and to understand that you as a person, are not your fear. Your fear doesn’t define you. It is a feeling built by the signals your senses send out. But it is quite a powerful and complex emotional feeling that plays a significant role in guiding your actions. On one hand, it can completely paralyze you from moving forward or doing something that needs to be done. But, on the other hand, it can also give you certain signals of what you can do, to either avoid getting into a situation you’re afraid, or what you can do to overcome your fear.
A lot of victims of individual violent behaviours claim that they felt a sense of fear before the actual incident or attack took place. While some choose to ignore these feelings or rationalize them in some manner, others may choose to act on them and take certain steps to avoid any danger that they have sensed. And how you choose to respond to these feelings of fear can in fact be the key factor that ensures your safety.
Just like in animals, our fear of violence or any kind of attack is the result of our survival instincts. But unlike animals, humans are probably the only species who can sense fear in a situation, and still ignore this fear to walk right into it. In his book, de Becker explains how these instincts present themselves in different scenarios, and why we tend to ignore these signals, and more importantly, why it would be unwise to ignore these signals, usually by confusing them with a feeling of anxiety.
That is what de Becker’s book revolves around. How any incident of seemingly random or unplanned violent attack, whether from an acquaintance, friend, spouse or a colleague, is not really a random attack. In fact, these violent behaviours can not only be traced to their roots, but also be predicted beforehand. “People don’t just ‘snap’ and become violent.” according to de Becker. “There is a process as observable, and often as predictable, as water coming to boil.” What de Becker essentially means is that the seed for an individual’s violent behaviour is sown much before an actual attack. And as this violent behaviour takes root inside the individual, there are several signs that it displays before it finally reveals itself. Signs that we can identify, if we only know what to look for.
‘The Gift of Fear’ does not limit itself to crimes or violent scenarios of a particular kind. Rather, it explores through illustrations, the different settings like workplaces, homes, schools and dating scenarios where violence can be seen, however unlikely they may seem. And de Becker quite persuasively highlights how these tragedies could have been averted if certain signs, that were in hindsight clearly visible, were identified and acted on. The book gives us an insight into the power of our own instincts through these cases, each stressing on the importance of understanding the signals our instincts are sending out.
What makes this book so gripping is the number of stories and cases it covers, and despite reading this book twice, there’s one story that remains etched in my mind, for more than one reason. The story of a young girl named Kelly in the opening chapter that sets the tone for the book in the most dramatic and startling manner possible. And her narration of the ordeal she went through and her story of survival gives us a small glimpse into why it would be wise to trust our natural instincts more than we do today. A point de Becker makes in a much more convincing manner in his book.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say ‘The Gift of Fear’ is a guide into understanding the role your instincts play in keeping you safe. But at the same time, it’s so much more. This is a book that edifies us on the true power of the most basic impulse that all human minds share, fear. And the endorsement the book has received from the likes Oprah Winfrey and Meryl Streep, clubbed with the deployment of de Becker’s MOSAIC Threat Assessment System by government agencies and de Becker’s work in security related issues at the highest levels, speak volumes of the author as well his book. A book that you absolutely need to read, as it can quite literally, save your life.