Book Review: The Gift of Fear

The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

When I broke the news to my parents that I planned to travel Africa and India by myself, their faces immediately fell. “But why? It’s so dangerous!” was the first thing they had to say and a sentiment they clung to for a while. It took months of talking about it and reassuring them that the world is a far less scary place than they would think before they started to come around to the idea. If I’m honest, I was quite wary about solo travel myself; I’m not the most observant of people and have been described as “gullible” on more than one occasion. That said, the nasty side of the world can just as easily make itself known in your own back yard and so I don’t think the world being “dangerous” is a valid excuse not to travel.

I first heard about The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker on another travel blog; it was described as an excellent read for anyone travelling alone, who needed an extra confidence boost. Having read it, I would now say that if you are looking for a book solely about travel safety, you may be disappointed. However, the advice De Becker imparts about assessing threatening situations is invaluable and could certainly benefit you at any other stage in your life. Aside from that, the case studies in the book make for quite a fascinating read.

The main message of the book is: Trust your intuition. You know that horrible gut feeling when something doesn’t feel right and you want to turn on your heels and get the hell out of wherever you are? It’s not a case of psychic mumbo jumbo; it’s your own intuition coming into play. Every second of every day, without even being fully aware of it, we take in our surroundings and analyse every last detail. If something is highlighted as unusual or threatening based on our own past experience, the alarm bells will start ringing. De Becker discusses how in counselling sessions after a traumatic event, victims will generally say something to the effect of “it didn’t feel right” but they went ahead and did it anyway as they couldn’t justify why they felt that way at the time. However, analysing the situation at a later stage, they may remember that a door was open when it shouldn’t have been, somebody’s body language didn’t match what they were saying, etc. Your intuition is a strong tool and you should trust it, even if you don’t fully understand why at the time.

The Gift of Fear has given me more confidence in my own ability to judge a character or situation, and to trust my instincts. My interpretation of what De Becker tries to teach is to neither be afraid nor blinded by confidence when entering new situations; instead, be level-headed and give your own mind the room to assess everything and deliver its verdict. If something feels ‘off’, there’s no need to flee immediately, but neither should you dismiss the feeling. Allow yourself the space to analyse what might be the issue and listen to your gut if the feeling persists.

Overall I worked my way through this book quite quickly and would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in personal safety, whether travelling or not, and how to handle potentially threatening situations.

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