When I was in highschool I read a book called ‘The Gift ofFear’ by Gavin DeBecker. DeBecker’s an expert in predicting and managing violence in pretty high profile cases and in his book he provides compelling stories and cases that demonstrate how incredibly important fear is as an instinct that can help keep us safe, and even save our lives.
One of the examples DeBecker uses in The Gift of Fear will probably stay with me for the rest of my life:
A woman is standing in front of an elevator. The doors open, and inside is a man. The woman immediately tenses up. Something about him makes her extremely uncomfortable, although she doesn’t know why. Should she tell him she’ll wait for the next elevator at the risk of offending him? Or step into a soundproof, steel cage with a strange man that makes her extremely uncomfortable?
I'm paraphrasing here, but it was one of the most profound things I had ever read. I would have stepped into the elevator. I would have ‘rationalized’ away the discomfort, ignoring whatever it was in me that said something was not right. I would have risked my safety for the sake being nice. What DeBecker was talking about was completely antithetical to everything I’d ever been taught.
Be polite Janie. Use your manners. Don't make waves.
Don’t do that, you might get hurt.
I was taught to avoid pain and fear. I was taught to be sweet, and polite and quiet (and preferably smart). So I didn’t exactly have a lot of training in fear.