12 May 2010


taken from The Gift Of Fear by Gavin de Becker

Whether or not men can relate to it or believe it or accept it, women, particularly in big cities, live with a constant wariness. Their lives are literally on the line in ways men just don’t experience. Ask some man you know, “When is the last time you were concerned or afraid that another person would harm you?” Many men cannot recall an incident within years. Ask a woman the same question and most will give you a recent example or say, “Last night,” “Today,” or even “Every day.” It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different – men and women live in different worlds. At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, meanwhile, at core, women are afraid men will harm them.

We want to believe that people are infinitely complex, with millions of motivations and varieties of behavior. It is not so. We want to believe that with all the possible combinations of human beings and human feelings, predicting violence is as difficult as picking the winning lottery ticket, yet it usually isn’t difficult at all. We want to believe that violence is somehow beyond our understanding, because as long as it remains a mystery, we have no duty to avoid it, explore it, or anticipate it. We need feel no responsibility for failing to read signals if there are none to read. We can tell ourselves that violence just happens without warning, and usually to others, but in service of these comfortable myths, victims suffer and criminals prosper.

The truth is that every thought is preceded by a perception, every impulse is preceded by a thought, every action is preceded by an impulse, and man is not so private a being that his behavior is unseen, his patterns undetectable.

Our intuition separates the merely unusual from the significantly unusual. It weighs the time of day, day of the week, loudness of the sound, quickness of the movement, flavor of the scent, smoothness of the surface, the entire mosaic of each moment. It discards the irrelevant and values the meaningful. It recognizes the survival signals we don’t even (consciously) know are signals.

Many experts lose the creativity and imagination of the less informed. They are so intimately familiar with known patterns that they may fail to recognize or respect the importance of the new wrinkle. Intuition heeded is far more valuable than simple knowledge. Intuition is a gift we all have, whereas retention of knowledge is a skill. Rare is the expert who combines an informed opinion with a strong respect for his own intuition and curiosity. Curiosity is, after all, the way we answer when intuition whispers, “There’s something there.”

Intuition is a process more extraordinary and ultimately more logical in the natural order than the most fantastic computer calculation. It is our most complex cognitive process and at the same time the simplest. Intuition connects us to the natural world and to our nature. Freed from the bonds of judgment, married only to perception, it carries us to predictions we will later marvel at: “Somehow I knew. . . .”

Because you know all about what it’s like to be a human being, you CAN imagine every human feeling (though some say they cannot). And it is that ability of your imagination that makes you an expert at predicting what others will do. There is no mystery of human behavior that cannot be solved inside your head or your heart. Violence and aggression occur in all cultures, the resource of violence is in everyone. All that changes is our view of the justification.

When it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two important ways: 1) It is always in response to something. 2) It always has your best interest at heart. Intuition is always learning, and everything it communicates to you is meaningful. Our interpretation of intuition is not always right. Clearly, not everything we predict will come to pass, but since intuition is always in response to something, rather than making a fast effort to explain it away or deny the possible hazard, we are wiser if we make an effort to identify the hazard, if it exists. If there’s no hazard, we have added a new distinction to our intuition, so that it might not sound the alarm again in the same situation.

Instead of being grateful to have a powerful internal resource, grateful for the self-care, instead of entertaining the possibility that our minds might actually be working for us and not just playing tricks on us, we rush to ridicule the impulse. We, in contrast to every other creature in nature, choose not to explore – and even to ignore – survival signals. The mental energy we use searching for the innocent explanation to everything could more constructively be applied to evaluating the environment for important information.

The strange way people evaluate risk sheds some light on why we often choose not to avoid danger. We tend to give our full attention to risks that are beyond our control (airplane crashes, nuclear disasters) while ignoring those we feel in charge of (car accidents, dying from poor diet), even though the latter are far more likely to harm us. While we knowingly volunteer for some risks, we object to those imposed on us by others. We will tolerate familiar risks over strange ones. We deny because we’re built to see what we want to see.

It is the brain which sees, not the eye. Reality is in the brain before it is experienced, or else the signals we get from the eye would make no sense. So, then, why do we worship hindsight and yet distrust foresight, which actually might make a difference in our lives? Why does America have thousands of suicide prevention centers and not one homicide prevention center? This truth underscores the value of having the pieces of the violence puzzle in our heads before we need them, for only then can we recognize survival signals.

Intuition might send any of several messengers to get your attention, and because they differ according to urgency, it is good to know the ranking. The one with the greatest urgency and should always be listened to is fear. Second to fear is apprehension. Below that is suspicion. At the fourth level are hesitation, doubt, gut feelings, hunches and curiosity. Generally speaking, the least urgent are nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, physical sensations, wonder, and anxiety.
Common PREDICTABLE Strategies:

  • FORCED TEAMING. Forced teaming is an effective way to establish premature trust because a we’re-in-the-same-boat attitude is hard to rebuff without feeling rude. Sharing a predicament will understandably move people around social boundaries. But forced teaming is not about coincidence; it is intentional and directed, and it is one of the most sophisticated manipulations. The detectable signal of forced teaming is the projection of a shared purpose or experience where none exists. It is not about partnership or coincidence – it is about establishing rapport, and that may or may not be all right, depending on why someone seeks rapport.
  • CHARM AND NICENESS. Charm is almost always a directed instrument, which, like rapport building, has motive. To charm is to compel, to control by allure or attraction. One way to charm is with the smile, which is the most important signal of intent and also the typical disguise used to mask the emotions. Niceness does not equal goodness. It is a decision, a strategy of social interaction. Like rapport building, charm, and the deceptive smile, unsolicited niceness often has a discoverable motive. People seeking to control others almost always present the image of a nice person.
  • TOO MANY DETAILS. When people are telling the truth, they don’t feel doubted, so they don’t feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn’t sound credible to them, so they keep talking. The defense to ‘too many details’ is to remain consciously aware of the context in which details are offered. Context is always apparent at the start of an interaction and usually apparent at the end of one, but too many details can make us lose sight of it. The person who recognizes the strategy of Too Many Details sees the forest while simultaneously being able to see the few trees that really matter. A good exercise is to occasionally remind yourself of where you are and what your relationship is to the people around you.
  • TYPECASTING. Typecasting can be used when someone labels another in some slightly critical way, hoping the other will feel compelled to prove that his opinion is not accurate. Type casting always involves a slight insult that is easy to refute. But it is the response itself that the typecaster seeks, so the best defense is silence, acting as if the words weren’t even spoken. The typecaster doesn’t even believe what he says is true. He just believes that it will work.
  • LOAN SHARKING. At its worst, loan sharking exploits a victim’s sense of obligation and fairness. The predator generously offers counterfeit charity but is always calculating the debt in his ledger. It can usually be paid off quite easily, just a little talk will do it, but he wants much more. The defense is to bring two rarely remembered facts into consciousness: He approached me, and I didn’t ask for any help. Then, watch for other signals to determine the motive for his offering assistance.
  • THE UNSOLICITED PROMISE. The unsolicited promise is one of the most reliable signals because it is nearly always of questionable motive. Promises are not guarantees. They are the most hollow of instruments of speech, showing nothing more than the speaker’s desire to convince you of something. The reason a person promises something, the reason he needs to convince you, is that he can see that you are not convinced. You have doubt, likely because there is reason to doubt. The speaker tells you so himself!
  • DISCOUNTING THE WORD “NO.” Perhaps the most universally significant signal of all is a man’s ignoring or discounting the concept of no. Declining to hear “no” is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. Actions are far more eloquent and credible than words, particularly a short and undervalued word like “no,” and particularly when it’s offered tentatively or without conviction. “No” is a word that must never be negotiated, it is by itself a complete sentence. When someone ignores that word, ask yourself: Why is this person seeking to control me? What does he want?

St. Michael by Guido Reni