Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Scary gifts

This book has been kind of making the rounds - including a great post by one of my favorite bloggers, Captain Awkward on the art of saying 'no,' and while I do not normally read any books that fall under the self-help or behavior modification category (unless someone wrote one called How To Get Everyone To Stop Being So Dumb All The Time, which I would be all over) I picked up a copy from the library last week.

The author has quite a story. He grew up in a household with a series of abusive stepfathers and psychopathic mother, and he's candid about knowing what it's like to be constantly attuned to tension in the air, which is something that any kid who's grown up in a turbulent household is familiar with (even now, I can't listen to debates on the radio - as soon as people start yelling and talking over one another, my stomach clenches up). De Becker founded a consulting company that has worked with the Secret Service, protective details, the police force, and large businesses on how to manage stalkers, predict domestic violence patterns, and predict and stop workplace violence.

Also, he quotes Edward Gorey. How cool is that?

I think De Becker's book became so popular because it tells us something we already know, and then assures us that it's okay - namely, that there are people out there are scary, odd, or just make us uncomfortable, and we're afraid of them, and it's okay to be afraid and to act on that, and that doesn't make us bad or mean people.

One thing I didn't expect is how much time De Becker spends on how women perceive fear versus men. He makes what I think is a very valid point, a point that people tend to ignore or dismiss, that women have an extra dimension of fear to their daily lives. Most guys, depending on what size you are or where you live or how much of a propensity you have for getting into brawls, don't have to be as hypervigilant about their physical safety as women do, but it seems like most guys (at least the ones I know) are blithely oblivious about this. De Becker not only points this out but emphasizes that men and women interact with people differently because of a whole host of factors, this being one of them, and that you don't need an excuse not to be nice to someone who is making you uncomfortable, even if it's just a gut feeling.

De Becker's not a writer, and the book suffers from the hasty editing that a lot of self-help books have (distracting typos, etc.) but his deconstruction of why people stalk, harass, and attack is really fascinating. There are even some genuinely fraught moments in the book, like when De Becker and the police are desperately trying to track down multiple murderer and stalker Michael Perry.

The book also talks a lot about how managers and companies can avoid workplace violence by actually reviewing references and backgrounds and not hiring people with a pattern of abusive behavior, but this portion of De Becker's book focuses exclusively on management, and unfortunately doesn't address what to do if you're stuck working with someone who makes you afraid, and this makes his take on workplace violence really out of balance.

Still, The Gift of Fear is an interesting book about a topic that affects everybody, and has a refreshingly realistic perspective on it.


  1. I read this book many years ago. At that time, the first chapter was the hardest thing I'd ever read. It wasn't fiction, which made it almost impossible to get through.

    Girls are brought up to 'profile' because our lives depend on it. It's sometimes called "woman's intuition." There's a saying, don't know who it belongs to: " A man is afraid a woman will laugh at him; a woman is afraid a man will kill her." Truer words have never been spoken.

    In that same vein, women and horses are kindred spirits: both are prey.

  2. Everyone at the office loved the miniature horse picture, although one person claimed it couldn't be real and had to be Photoshopped! (Moral: miniature horses = super cute, people = often dumb).

    I get really, really annoyed with a lot of the guys I know when they discount/belittle/ignore/are otherwise douchey about their lady friends saying "hey, such and such guy is really creepy." It's like there's some secret Dudebro code out there that means you have to go "oh he is NOT, you're just PARANOID" when a lady friend says that about one of your guy friends.
    We're usually right and then when you find out that creepy guy friend has, like, a trunkful of dead kittens or is always inappropriate all the time, they're like, oh well, huh, I never saw THAT coming.