Skip to Content

Book Review: "The Gift of Fear", by Gavin de Becker

I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, in “No thank you, Mr. Pecker”

I first heard of Gavin de Becker when Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, referenced de Becker in the above blog post regarding The National Enquirer’s attempted extortion of Bezos. Apparently, this decision was spurred by de Becker’s recommendation that American Media Inc., the National Enquirer’s parent company, would not expect this play, and given the hilarity of AMI investigating itself and (I’m guessing) eating its own young in the process without destroying enough evidence to prevent de Becker from tracing the source to suffer the wrath of one of the richest men in the world, it seems to have worked. As an additional bonus, David Pecker (AMI’s CEO) may have violated a prior plea deal to not commit crimes and may be exposed to federal charges. A result so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes.

I had also heard that Mr. de Becker had published a book, and decided to check it out when I went to Politics and Prose to listen to Cal Newport’s talk on digital minimalism. As it turned out, they did carry a copy, and I purchased it in support of my local bookstore (sorry Mr. Bezos).

Mr. de Becker proceeds through the book to break down a number of psychological profiles of people hurting other people. In the process, he goes over how their victims behaved in each situation. In doing so, he details fear at its most effective:

  • Fear is a gut feeling: By all means, don’t ignore your intuition because of perceived social pressures. If your gut tells you to do something, you should do it. Better to be non-conformist and alive than comformist and dead. If somebody is being too nice, be forceful and say no.

  • Fear energizes; it does not paralyze: If you ever find yourself in a high-stakes situation, your System 1 (spinal cord) will likely tell you what to do. It’s like an out-of-body experience. I felt it the first time I was robbed. You are kind of just along for the ride. Somehow that evening I slept like a baby, because nobody will break into a house that has busted locks and no valuables.

  • Fear should be rare: You shouldn’t live in a constant state of anxiety or worry, because it dampens the signal of fear when you need it the most and cost you everything. If you are feeling anxious or fearful, it is likely because of some persistent factor in your life (you don’t like your job, you don’t like living in a particular place, a problem with friends, etc.). Get out of that situation so that your fear can shine you when you need it.

This is a pretty bad explanation of how this book went, but I thought it was worth the buy for the information I got out. You should get the book yourself in order to learn more.