December 15, 2010

Real fear

El Cabrero just finished teaching an evening college sociology class on Deviance and Social Control. I enjoy teaching that class as it provides a chance to look at the dark side of social life, including the damage done both by those who violate social rules and the damage done by those who get to make social rules.

(In case you were wondering, the latter group has done way more harm.)

I try to make such classes as practical as possible and bring in as much good information and ideas as I can find from many sources. One book that I took another look at this time was The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, which was first published in the 1990s.

De Becker is a security expert with considerable experience, personal and professional, in dealing with violence and threats. Unlike many in that trade, he does not try to drum up business by scaring the hell out of people unnecessarily. In fact, he argues that one reason we may miss out on listening to real fear from real threats is that we waste a lot of time and energy on worry and anxiety about things that are not threats.

Real fear, he suggests, is the body's intuitive response to specific real threats or danger signals. It's not something that most of us feel all that often, but when we do it's time to listen.

I had an experience of that when I was about 13 or so and I was lucky enough to listen to it. When I was in junior high, I used to think it was really cool to hitchhike. My usual destination was an unincorporated town about five miles away which seemed cool at the time.

Don't ask me why.

Anyhow, once when hitching back, a car stopped full of older teens or young men who were rough looking. I'm taking knuckles dragging out car windows. I used to do and have done all kinds of stupid things in my life, but that time something inside me screamed "NO!" and I listened. I thanked the driver and headed off on foot the other direction.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I got in the car. I'm glad I don't know.

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