The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us From Violence

This was a real eye opener and I walked away feeling that it should be required reading at work and school – especially for anyone in America. The author, Gavin de Becker, is the founder of a security firm that assesses and handles violent threats to public figures, ranging from politicians, actors, and corporate execs. That said, the book is really for everyone.

He asks, and answers, questions like, “What is the difference between worrying and real fear? How do we predict violence in our day to day lives? How can we keep our kids safe? For women, what are warning signs that a guy could turn violent? How do people use dark humor to voice concerns? Why do most people ignore their innate intuition of fear, often with fatal consequences?”

There’s a lot of great tips on how to spot a liar and how to act before it’s too late — in situations where the consequences could be lethal. Also, some practical advice on how to avoid asshole boyfriends/crazy girlfriends. Painted with various real life stories I felt like this book was one I had to share and ended up buying it for several of my female friends after reading it.

Gavin’s writing is concise, eloquent, and full of counterintuitive yet practical advice to lower the likelihood that we find ourselves in violent situations. I was reading Michael J. Fox’s autobiography recently and noticed that he also use Becker’s firm as a security agency — seems like he’s been around for a while!

Ideas/quotes tha I enjoyed: 

-When people are telling the truth, they don’t feel doubted, so they don’t feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn’t sound credible to them, so they keep talking.

-“Technology is not going to save us. Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being.” —Joseph Campbell

-Declining to hear “no” is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. With strangers, even those with the best intentions, never, ever relent on the issue of “no,” because it sets the stage for more efforts to control. If you let someone talk you out of the word “no,” you might as well wear a sign that reads, “You are in charge.”

-Trust that what causes alarm probably should, because when it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two important ways: 1. It is always in response to something. 2. It always has your best interest at heart.

-Direct threats are not a reliable pre-incident indicator for assassination in America, as demonstrated by the fact that not one successful public-figure attacker in the history of the media age directly threatened his victim first

-One of the most common errors in selecting a boyfriend or spouse is basing the prediction on potential. This is actually predicting what certain elements might add up to in some different context: He isn’t working now, but he could be really successful. He’s going to be a great artist—of course he can’t paint under present circumstances. He’s a little edgy and aggressive these days, but that’s just until he gets settled.

A quote from the book:

“Though leaving is the best response to violence, it is in trying to leave that most women get killed. This dispels a dangerous myth about spousal killings: that they happen in the heat of argument. In fact, the majority of husbands who kill their wives stalk them first, and far from the “crime of passion” that it’s so often called, killing a wife is usually a decision, not a loss of control. Those men who are the most violent are not at all carried away by fury. In fact, their heart rates actually drop and they become physiologically calmer as they become more violent..”


A great podcast episode featuring Sam Harris and Gavin. 

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