The Gift of Fear

By Gavin De Becker

Book CoverSeveral years ago, Kinsey introduced me to Ask A Manager, a blog in which an experienced HR professional offers job advice and answers reader-submitted questions. It sounds like it should be dry, but she has a very entertaining writing style, and some of the letters are downright crazy. Reading through some of the older entries, someone had written in about the possibility of a coworker stalking her. She wasn’t sure about it, so she wanted advice about whether to talk to HR.

The advice was a resounding “talk to HR now” and also read Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear, which many of the comments then seconded. They all said that it does a great job of advising when to actually be afraid of violence and what kind of action to take. I thought this would be really helpful to me, since I suspect that I’m often afraid in situations I need not be, and then not at all afraid in situations in which I should at least show a bit more caution.

I found the book both more entertaining than I had expected and less instructional than I’d hoped. Gavin De Becker himself is truly fascinating: his childhood in a violent home has led him to dedicate his life to predicting and preventing acts of violence, and he runs a corporation that provides security for politicians and celebrities. The book is chock full of tabloid-like stories, which reinforced a lot of the same themes (fame leading to complete loss of privacy and increased vulnerability to the people around you) from The Cuckoo’s Calling, which I was reading concurrently.

After the majority of the book details individual cases and De Becker’s analysis of them, the final chapter is a general summation, and was more of what I’d expected from the entire book: advice to the average reader on how to live safely and without unreasonable fear. My main takeaway was that we, as people, tend to put a lot of our energy toward general anxiety, which both exhausts us and does nothing to keep us safe. If we trust our natural sense of fear enough to ignore it until it alerts us, and then pay attention when it does alert us, we would have a much better ability to keep ourselves safe.

My main criticism of the book is that while I think this is excellent advice, I bet this is easier said than done, and most of the book is spent trying to convince the reader of this fact instead of instructing how to change to this way of thinking. I would have even liked some mind exercises, perhaps, that could help with training yourself to a general alertness. He does have several follow-up books so perhaps they go more into that. I am interested in continuing with his books, though perhaps after some more fiction.

Some other interesting asides from the book:

  • The life of a celebrity is INSANE! I truly don’t think that all the fame and money is worth the lack of privacy and the entitlement that the general public feels toward them. He has a story toward the end about a particular celebrity, which I’m not going to spoil, but just believe me that it is crazy.
  • De Becker claims that traffic jams caused, not by accidents themselves, but by people slowing down to gawk at them, are due not to our macabre fascination, but  to an instinctual need to analyze potential danger. I’m not sure I agree, but it makes me slightly less annoyed at those traffic jams.


5 comments on “The Gift of Fear

  1. Ben says:

    I remember a quote from a celebrity, who said, “If you really want to be rich and famous, why don’t you try just being rich for a while, and see whether that takes care of it.”

    • Anna says:

      Ah, yes, Kinsey mentioned that, too, in her review of The Cuckoo’s Calling – I think it is Bill Murray? I would love to try being rich for a while; I do think it would take care of it!

  2. Hi Anna,

    The Gift of Fear is an excellent book for bringing awareness to the average person about trusting their instincts. I agree with your analysis, in that, the book is missing some key components like how to actually become more aware. Also, how to calibrate your instincts to ensure that you are feeling that way for an appropriate reason. I wrote several posts on situational awareness and exercises that help to hone it, if you interested.

    • Anna says:

      You know, I’m glad that you agree, since I was feeling like perhaps I had just missed the point or something. I’m definitely interested in reading your posts about situational awareness, since that is most definitely not currently a strength of mine.

      • Hi Anna,

        Thank you for your interest in my posts! I would also like to recommend another book for you, Left of Bang by Jason Riley and Patrick Van Horne. I literally just finished writing a review on it. This book will definitely help you in your climb to better situational awareness.

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