By Chuck Foster
In 1997, a fascinating book on personal safety was published. Written by Gavin de Becker, it was titled The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence (available on Amazon). The book provides a powerful and unique perspective on the roles of fear and intuition in keeping us safe. The author tells a number of gripping stories that demonstrate his concepts. What follows is a brief introduction to some of the author’s main concepts.
In western culture, we make decisions predominantly using logic. Logic is effective when we have the time to evaluate A through Z, which is a plodding process that slowly results in a decision. During an emergency, a logical thought process is too slow. Animals, not having the incredible brain of the human, naturally respond to any threat using intuition and instinct. Intuition is learned and instinct is inbred.
Intuition is knowing something without knowing why. It’s the journey from A to Z without stopping in between. It is coming to a conclusion quickly. Intuition is the primary resource we use to protect ourselves from danger and is a process of constant learning. That’s one reason we are fascinated with recent tragedies. For example, we slow down while passing a traffic accident to assess the nature of the incident. What was the threat that resulted in someone being injured? How can I avoid that type of injury in the future?
How does intuition communicate with us? Suspicion, doubt, nagging feeling, gut feeling, curiosity, or a sense of something more to learn here can all be signs of intuition at work. Suspicion tells you to keep watching whatever has caught your attention. Suspicion is something that comes to you. You do not choose to be suspicious.
The work of intuition can be done in an instant. Intuition is there to guard and protect. Unfortunately, humans, unlike animals, can deny what intuition is telling us. Intuition is knowing something without knowing why, and denial is seeing something clearly and choosing not to see it. Interestingly, animals, other than predators, will never move toward danger. In contrast, humans move toward danger all the time by cross-examining and denying our own feelings. Intuition does not waste our time. During an emergency, we do not have time to waste critical mental energy cross-examining our feelings.
There are important distinctions between true fear, fear, worry, and anxiety. True fear is a signal that we are in the presence of immediate danger. If we have fear about something that is not a present danger, that is usually unwarranted fear, worry, or anxiety. Imagination and memory are the origins of unwarranted fear. The news media are constantly feeding our intuition with false information. Tragedies that happen elsewhere do not present an immediate threat. For example, you live in a city of 8.5 million people (e.g., New York City) and you hear on the news that a child was abducted last night. The news makes you worry about your child’s safety although the odds of your child’s being abducted are statistically zero. This type of fear is not informed by intuition.
True fear is the most urgent messenger of intuition. It is a signal that you are in the presence of danger and it’s meant to be brief. True fear will take over your body and stop time for you. Or it will speed up time, whatever is needed at that moment. Time is no longer measured in seconds but milliseconds. Everything else is forgotten. In this moment, every tiny action you take is under the control of this ancient internal guardian that is waiting in you for these very emergencies. If you allow it, true fear will get you out of most emergencies. Fear equals courage. When in a state of true fear, you will do something you would never volunteer to do. Fear gives you the courage to act and intuition gives you the information to act. Intuition will respond to “pre-incident” indicators of danger. You will not be intellectually aware of the information your senses are gathering in the environment that is triggering your intuition.
Humans are the most powerful creatures on the earth. All non-humans fear us because we have the ability to kill every one of them. In the modern era, our greatest exposure is to the human predator, the most dangerous creature on earth.
The gift of true fear is that it alerts us to an immediate threat, which allows us to take action to defeat the threat. There is nothing to fear until you feel fear.