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Although the book is heavily weighted towards American culture, the themes of dangerous obsession and violence are universal and this book should be recommended to everyone who lives in our modern unpredictable world. “Violence is a part of America, and more than that, it is a part of our species, it is around us, and it is in us.” (6)
The message of the book ‘Gift of Fear’ is that in just about every case of “random” violence, whether it be attack from a co-worker or a spouse, the violence could have been predicted or provoked hours, days, months and even years in advance. Violence is usually predictable, as we learn to trust the fear instinct and detect the signals of aggression. Fear is not the same as anxiety or neurosis. It is an instinct of the mind, and De Becker claims you can develop your instinct for fear. “True fear is a survival signal that sounds only in the presence of danger, yet unwarranted fear has assumed a power over us that it holds over no other creature on earth.” (293)
Victims of violent behavior often feel a sense of fear of some sort before any threats occur or any violence even took place. They may distrust the fear or disregard it, or it may get them to take action to avoid harm and save other people’s lives or their own life. “That friendly-looking young man had caused three hours of suffering in her apartment and at least three months of suffering in her memory.” (3). De Becker is an internationally recognized on picking up the signals and signs that someone will become violent. A person may “explode”, but the fuse is lit long before actual harm occurs. The Gift of Fear is full of cases of stalkers who turned violent and co-workers who went berserk. He convincingly highlights how these tragedies could have been averted had the signs been picked up and then acted upon. “She said she had learned enough in our meetings to never again be victimized that way.” (5)
The book also explains how to identify warning signs of potential attack. There are strategies for dealing with those may become violent. De Becker states that “People don’t just ‘snap’ and become violent. There is a process as observable, and often as predictable, as water coming to a boil.” Gaining the knowledge to predict violence is the best way, of course, of preventing and avoiding it.
Essentially, according to de Becker, people become violent, especially people not usually prone to violence, when they feel they have run out of all other options and are being ignored or belittled. Like all good books, this one is enlightening about the human condition in general and touches upon the basic needs all human share – although if it were updated more could be made of the Human Givens perspective.
The gift of fear helps us to understand the mechanisms of fear and explains how our instincts protect us from criminals by showing us the universal signals and warning signs. Violence rarely comes “out of the blue”, and by recognizing the signs, you will be better equipped to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
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