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The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

the gift of fear de beckerJust in case someone is smashing down your door this very minute, I’ll give you the crash course review in Gavin De Becker’s marvelous self-defense book The Gift of Fear. Here it is:

  • You should read it.
  • Trust your intuition when things don’t fee right
  • Run!

If you have more time, I also recommend it for you. Read on, traveler.

Gavin De Becker and The Gift of Fear

De Becker sounds like a very interesting man. He runs an agency whose function is to make predictions about when violent behavior is going to occur or escalate.

For instance: a celebrity receives an unusually unnerving piece of fan mail. It is threatening, or just “doesn’t feel right.” He or she takes it to Mr. De Becker and says “Just how worried should I be?”

That letter and any other pertinent evidence get weighed and evaluated and they make recommendations for the client.

At times the book makes it sound like the system they use is incredibly complicated, but the author insists that you (and me) already have all the tools we need to keep ourselves safe.

Most importantly: our intuition.

A few premises from the book

The full title is The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence

  • Violence is random
  • It can happen at any time
  • We are all capable of it
  • We are hardwired to recognize when we are in danger, if we learn how to pay attention and don’t ignore
  • Awareness is the starting point to being as safe as possible
  • Everyone has intuition and everyone can develop awareness
  • The appearance of being an unattractive target can be the most effective deterrent to a potential predator

Common sense in self defense?

I’ve had my wife read the book as well, and on each page, we each said something to the effect of “Well that makes sense.”

So is the book necessary? For me I’m going to say yes.It’s hard for me to imagine a downside to applying the principles in the book. Of course,

I would also venture that the many victims whose cases he uses would agree, and he gives frequent examples of people who felt that something was wrong, but ignored the feeling, and paid an awful price.

The author cites some truly grim statistics about violence against women in America, often with variations of the following scenario:

“Can I help you with your groceries Ma’am?”

Rather than appear “rude,” a woman lets the man help her and winds up getting abducted.

De Becker’s question: Is it preferable to be called a bitch by a man whose intentions were innocent, or to take a risk by accommodating someone whose intentions are completely unknown?

There was also a sentence from these passages that really sticks with me.

I’m paraphrasing:

The man who truly wants nothing from you will not offer assistance or approach you.

This was hard for me to hear. I take pride in being a gentleman, but I have to admit that there is truth in the above statement for me. The motives need not be bad in order for the statement to be valid.

I believe we’re all driven by incentives. I tried to watch myself yesterday and pay attention to who I talked to, and to figure out why. I used examples that weren’t related to conversations I had to have as part of my job.

  • I like attention
  • I would rather be conversing than silent when another person is around
  • I like to make people laugh
  • I like it when women smile at me
  • I like to put people at ease
  • I’m compelled to try calm people down when they are radiating tension, even if it’s just because I’m getting tense as well
  • I like to be liked
  • I like to be helpful

Is there anything “wrong” with any of that? No, but at some level, I really do believe that even the things I may tell myself I do altruistically are still driven by incentives, even if it’s because my subconscious wants some good karma.All of the things above make me feel better without necessarily being wanted or needed by anyone else.

The point of that was that, even using a seemingly harmless man as an example, I would much rather have my wife or sisters or mother or female friends scream and tell him to get away if they were uncertain about his motives (And I don’t know how we can ever really know someone else’s motives), than to ignore their intuition for the sake of appearances or generosity.


The Gift of Fear teaches the ordinary, non-Jack-Bauer citizen to be aware of their surroundings, of their mental states, and to sharpen their awareness, all to the end of recognizing the “bad feelings” of intuition that are precursors to violence.

I myself have very little experience with violence, but I find the arguments and strategies in the book highly persuasive. I also have friends that are about as close to Jack Bauer as it gets, and they have all recommended this book to me as well.


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chris B April 13, 2011, 1:46 pm

    I read this book years ago and I thought at the time that he had some really good ideas. And as I did I remembered one time in the circus when I was in a group of young, scantily-costumed female performers waiting next to the bleachers for our cue to enter the ring when a guy suddenly jumped down from the seats above into our midst. My immediate reaction was to put up my fists and scream at him to “get the f**k away from us before I beat your a**”. I was teased for a long time about my “over-reaction”, but I still believe that my instincts were right and that Gavin would have been on my side.

  • Heather April 15, 2011, 7:28 am

    I downloaded this last night after I got my internet back, but didn’t “crack” it until I woke up becasue I couldn’t sleep anymore. Wow. . . just. . . wow. . . I’ve been doing stuff right and just didn’t know it. Huh. . . so maybe I’m not a psycho Bee-otch, and I really AM a Warrior Woman! Thanks for this one, Josh! Totally worth it! I cannot thank you enough for this. @Chris–YOU ROCK! Don’t put up with no crap! Stay Strong!

  • Sarah November 18, 2011, 2:37 pm

    I have read this book a multiple amount of times, it is a phenomenal book, and has saved my life. I am going to be running self-defense seminars all throughout our community. We want to make this book part of the package of these self-defense seminars, not for profit, but for information to save lives. Is it possible to have a shipment of these books sent to us at a discounted rate? Or even possibly to have a guest speaker at one of our seminars? email me at sarahdraht@gmail.com.
    We are looking at starting to run these seminars in January 2012, and have them as an on-going event. Please contact me! Thank you!