The Open Mind: The Gift of Fear - Gavin de BeckerJan 14, 2022
The ongoing production of The Open Mind has been made possible by grants from the Rosalind P Walter Foundation The M We Know Foundation of New Jersey The Thomas and Teresa Milwaukee Foundation The New York Times Company Foundation The Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation at Teachers College Columbia University and from the root of the corporate community of fin I am Richard Heffner your host in the
mindand in this age of violence I have been so captivated by the importance of understanding what on the surface appears to be an internal contradiction to both the title and thrust of Little Brown's new bestseller, The Gift of Fear, which I asked author Gavin de Becker, an international expert in predicting violent behavior and protecting your story to clients, to explain when and how
fearcan be a
gift, but when two becomes a curse and a dangerous obstacle in his intriguing new book, my guest o refers to the famous line from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural address, the on The only thing we have to
fearis fear itself, but first I would ask Gavin de Becker if what FDR also said doesn't further clarify his thesis and the president's as Roosevelt said so first let me state my firm belief that the only thing we can have to fear is fear itself nameless unreasonable unwarranted terror paralyzing the efforts needed to turn withdrawal in advance isn't that more than what you're saying mr.
Becker absolutely that he is absolutely correct and in fact I modify his quote slightly to say that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself when there is a reason for fear and you know I get asked all the time what we have to fear. and i say well it's not a choice you're afraid of it's not a decision you make the real fear comes in here you know and takes over this animal and causes all these physical responses our vision becomes more focused lactic acid pumped into the muscles a chemical called cortisol is released into your bloodstream which prepares you for fight because it makes your blood clot if you cut yourself i mean all these extraordinary things happen with real fear that other thing you know that unwarranted fear voluntary fear like worrying that is what roosevelt really talks about and i agree with him 100% that fear will kill more americans this year than violence how heart disease stress related disorders high blood pressure depression suicide d acts of defensive violence when there was no need for them and you know the fear that we have in this culture that really centers this culture.
I would say that the vast majority is unjustified, unjustified. the
giftof fear somehow adds to the unwarranted fear in the general public well not for readers i mean certainly when people pass it in a bookstore it has the vague word fear in there of course the gift is that big and the fear is this. great, but the people who read it come away with a lot less fear. I mean, if the hundreds of letters and all the responses I've received are any indication that people feel informed about what risk really looks like lest this be this faceless monster like Roosevelt said it's not this demon that we imagine, but it is real, what is it really?
So I certainly hope it doesn't contribute because the message of the book is here where fear has a role here is where it is a gift and here is where it is a curse and here is how to tell the difference what is the real key problem well yes kinda of paranoia is a healthy thing what is your definition of appropriate fear well appropriate fear is a brief signal that you are in the presence of danger where it is based on something you perceive about your environment or your circumstances that's all i just said the whole definition a short cue in the presence of danger now in justified fear which has a much longer definition which is anxiety and worry and the way to tell the difference pretty quickly is if true fear is based on your perception something you perceive in your circumstance then unwarranted fear is always something of your memory or your imagination and here is a practical example that most of us have had that experience of going to the airport to and you think that I should not get on this plane I should cancel this flight and I asked the person who experiences that fear is it based on a news item he saw three weeks ago of a plane crash or is it based on seeing the pilots fall from the bar at the airport one of them would be in your environment something that you perceive would take another flight but if it is based on something in your imagination or your memory it is not relevant to his safety, but if he resorts to the type of violent crimes in the streets that we've been so concerned about in this country, it's declining now, but there were those who say it will rise again when certain demographic changes occur. what is real and what is not real we do not feel when we see the tabloids and we see the tabloid shows and we hear all about violence all the time you are very hard on the media in particular electronic media doesn't it become that almost a real fear in itself well its a real fear its just not related to real danger the thing is that in normal human experience we would experience the calamities in our own lives in the weird abnormal experience that you and I'm having today. and as members of the United States of the 1990s we experience the calamities in everyone's lives.
I see a local news about a group of people hanging from a building in a fire and stairs and an emergency and it looks terribly alarming and I turn on the sound and it's in Caracas Venezuela well I'm here happy to tell your viewers that the fire in Caracas Venezuela can't burn them and the hostage scene with the gunmen in the supermarket that's 40 miles away since the bullets only go a mile they can't shoot you and the kind of things we see that are designed to do to us stare using fear those headlines that say you know cell phones can kill you news at 1100 earthquake dust choking your kids news at 11 thanksgiving turkey polluted kills family of three could be your family next like that's all well and good in los angeles the tainted thanksgiving turkey was a turkey and a community of 11 million people so i'm here to say turkey can't It would kill your family unless we all had very small portions which was a turkey is designed to bypass our reasoning ability and go directly to the emotional fear response and I think most of the time and you know you're older than me have you ever in your life ever seen something on the local news that was immediately relevant to your safety do you ever know someone who has done well since you've been obnoxious enough to say I'm older than you? i live in a large metropolitan area as i do as you do and you turn on your local tv and you see almost nothing but catastrophe in this case my example within the five boroughs ah the feeling that this has something to do with you has to be there the sense, yes, but the direct relevance of this is an example given from New York City a few months ago, I was here and there was a story on Long Island about a rapist who got caught, had raped and murdered a woman in a park and he was caught and arrested and here is the news that he was caught and arrested and now we interview people i am afraid to go to the park of course i am the next woman of course i am afraid to go to the park interesting what got caught that news might have been happy birthday long island people one less rapist in our park is on this good news and instead is tied to the fear button you push the fact is there is always a risk of a rapist in u n park that exists and the news the media tells you there's something new to be afraid of every week LA was the free wave shootings that was a big fad you remember it was a national story you certainly know that's not in the news anymore do you suppose people stopped shooting people on the freeways no more hot days no more guns and angry motorists no that's still going on but it's last season episode this season episode is burglaries which i always enjoy because every house burglary involves an invasion you rarely invite them in burglaries with an expert checklist with all the scary stories about what happened to people and the next season probably it will be like i joke in the book it will be thieves hiding in your bag and robbing you when they get home and it will be a check list bag feels very loud voice v It comes from the bag so it's designed to be scary and if there's nothing there in New York City where you live I'll show you something from Reno Nevada or something from Las Vegas or something from Caracas Venezuela but you have your own checklists and you should consider them especially important warning for a woman and above all concerned here about women and that is true what are your checklists?
I would just define a difference between the two, mine are authentic, not based on the fact that I have a little video to show a woman's feet sticking out of a sheet on a gurney being pulled out of the coroner's van, but They are based on the true nature of this type of violence, so in spousal homicide there are behaviors that men display prior to spousal homicide that help make it predictable and they are based on thousands of cases, there is one every two hours, one every two hours in the United States then we have no shortage of spousal homicide cases to study, so when in the book I say that if a man refers to violent news and revenge and talks about guns as instruments of power he shows guns he threatens to kill his wife he breaks the wedding photos that are symbolic violence if he abuses alcohol if there have been violent incidents in the past if he is not communicative if he minimizes acts of violence if he seeks to control the e spouse and so on so that woman is in a situation where the probability of escalating to homicide becomes pretty high when you say what is one every two hours one every two I was in the US and then you go through this checklist you scare me to death well a Are you in danger of spousal homicides?
Not quite, not quite, but you scare me to death for my society because you say look at the figure of one every two hours. It is a very significant number. It is a country with more than a quarter of a billion inhabitants. I'll tell you why I do that. I say it right at the beginning of the book. This is where we are and there are many numbers like that. 70 children every week killed in the United States by a parent. guns every day more guns come into commerce in america than people right now so we have to start with where we live to remove the denial because the denial says things like that don't happen in my neighborhood oh yeah i saw it on the news but i'm not in a relationship right now so i'm not at risk or is that just a risk for the elderly for the young or for the armed or for drug users what do we all do when we find out of something violent? death is immediately we find a way that we can exclude ou ourselves from that risk we say well I don't live in the center of the city or I don't engage in that behavior or I don't go out that late at night I wanted to tell people strong and powerfully and clearly that violence is a part of the human condition is not going anywhere violence and conflict are a part of human beings just as much as they are a part of chimpanzees and orangutans and lions and we have to start by acknowledging that we have in this country an opportunity to introduce the matriarchy that feminism now has power in the United States women have power in the United States where in all other cultures men had power because of violence women have power because of communication so we have an opportunity to do something to change it in our country we are not using that opportunity in a country where we fear violent crime and What do we do every Friday and Saturday night but line up to see that the movies can't say forget about the tabloids let's continue with this medium or the electronic media can't say that reporting is being honest and wanting people to take care of the reality is they are reporting violent news the way you want to report violent news in your book and you do and that's what led me to wonder if there wasn't some internal contradiction well I'll tell you what I think is different.
I report information that you read, and by the nature of reading, you need to be in a relaxed state. You don't have an emergency. Your heartbeat does not increase. You're not gasping as you read that but when you turn on the tv and they say ok let's go to the back of the building now Lucy are you there how many cops do I have ambulances have arrived yet not so show me the pictures of the fire and show me the pictures if there are more they will die remains to be seen it was something like that in case more will die remains to be seen all the time that is in the nature of life you know they have these stories thatthey never end and they are offered to you urgently and on an emergency basis at m if you know i broke into your house and said quick quick come with me to save your life you could follow me and you would be very excited and full of energy that is what forty hours are doing a day in most cases cities forty hours a day of local news, the difference is that if I give you a piece of information to inform you and I choose that information because I think it is valuable to you, they choose that information because it has a graphic video because there is a horrifying discovery made today in Reno please he made a horrifying discovery today he was picked because it is going to be scary provoking and most notably not about his survival because why is something on the news because it is unusual for a cougar to attack a family five today in Big Bear County? for a cougar in America so your viewers can find me through this show and someone gets attacked by a cougar they'll get a check for me because the fact that I'm unusual is what makes it newsworthy they don't see that those seventy children died this week murdered by a father you don't see a woman will die you know before this show comes out another woman dying of spousal homicide that's not news okay make your case and make your case very well what would you do then to to do that different mm-hmm I think I would I would present something that existed even when I was younger to the news and even to the local news responsibility responsibilities ethics would be another and the last one would be that when I was young they used to say things like we have a video shocking those of you who don't want to see it can leave the room right now now say shocking video so you stay yes announce shocking video s And they, these men and women that I used to see, were characterized by one thing, above all, Cronkite, was characterized by calm, calm, he told you that the Cuban Missile Crisis is in this state and this is what is happening, he didn't I was grabbing the edge of the writing table like people are doing nowadays you I know they're getting foam at the mouth as they tell you how many bodies were involved in the car crash and I mean it's an actual line from a news story in Los Angeles, a fire at an oil refinery and our announcer says that the ambulances have not arrived yet. i have news for you, the ambulances never came because there was no one there, but what line of ambulances have not arrived yet, doesn't that imply that the ambulances are arriving at the site you know?
The whole nature of ethics is gone because th Those men and women of today and I don't mean it desperately about the men and women you know the individuals but the institution of this now is if it bleeds drive make it so exciting and scary as you can, make it promotional, you know. the dangers of debit cards look i just wrote a book on the real danger there is no danger of debit cards what are people eating i have to see if they are cutting themselves no dangerous dangers debit cards? everything is expressed in your security and violence and it is not the truth that is part of a wish list that we could return the conversation to Walter Cronkite and before and nobody asks you for a wish list what would you do Gavin de Becker, who knows fear, You know it has a negative impact on us and it's a favorable favorable impact in terms of not unreasonable fear, but when you get to unreasonable fear, you say it throws us off balance, sure makes us unable to deal with the actual item. true, it actually puts us at greater risk, what would you do right about media?
I'm doing it right now in my life personally and it's that I never watch the local news and people are surprised to hear that since I'm in the business of assessing risk and danger can you imagine if Martians came to this planet and they'll interview Americans and say what do you do for the last half hour before you go to sleep oh we look at the coroner's pictures and fires and children killed in car crashes and then we go to sleep and what do you do when you wake up oh we look at the pictures of the forensics and children killed in fires and car accidents and that's what we do all day that's what we do so what I've done to change it for myself is I don't watch the local news I just don't watch it and I used to feel great if you know you should be informed you should i don't know what i've missed yet for someone to come to me and tell me you mean someone actually told me right? seeing that plane crash works and I stopped him I said no I didn't see it well let me finish he said I told him I sure didn't see it but you know I don't think you're worried about me and I'm not worried about Gavin de Becker so when You don't look and I don't say thank God you won't get infected or affected by the crap that's going on, but I ask you a broader, more social question.
Are we going to do what you would have our society do? I said everyone else who hasn't come to the conclusion that you've come to the well, the damn thing should, in the most personal sense, be the greatest contribution I've been able to make. to do is write a book that says this is what risk really looks like you need this information there are risks in the world there are people who act violently what it looks like this is what predatory crime really looks like if i could give a unique gift for women American women would take away the idea that they are required to be polite, that they are required to engage in conversations with strangers that someone who offers to help them is a good person or a good man I talk a lot in the book about the words nice and charming charming is a verb is not an adjective a person has no charm they use charm to compel by charm so a unique gift i could give that i tried is to teach young women i would have a high school class to answer your question very directly that teaches young men to hear the word know and teaches young women that it's okay to speak it explicitly you know when you and I say it's not the f end of an argument when a woman says it's not the start of a negotiation I say would you like to go out with me no really I'd rather not oh come on no I just want to say how about we have lunch in the discussion and we could work a lot on that so that women don't find themselves denying true signs of hesitation and signs of fear?
Look at this fact that a woman gets into. an elevator late at night the elevator arrives the door
opens there is a guy inside that he is afraid of for a hundred political reasons he says that I am afraid of this guy but I don't want to be that kind of person and only because he is not well dressed and i don't want to let him the door slams in her face and she walks into a soundproof steel chamber with someone she's afraid of, there isn't an animal in the wild that would even consider having that thought process and women in America do. they do because of this culture that says you really can't explicitly say no you know explicitly you can't be rude the cost of being rude could be death you could be killed for it because you don't make a man angry because if you're angry you can kill yourself that It's what I would change more than anything in a high school class, but that's the practical answer I'm talking about and then the concepts in the book are my little way of contributing to all of that and to re reduce unwarranted fear, would you do something about it? the media raising unwarranted fear in your opinion i think it's really the market you know i mean if we're going to look at these things i think it's the consumer so i don't think it's a little thing i've stopped watching the local news it is the consumer who controls all of this there was an illusion that the news was a public service news tv news is a business period it is no different than selling toothpaste or in fact it is tied to selling toothpaste and but i grew up Believing it was good decent people making a contribution to keeping us informed and maybe it was I don't know but it's a completely different animal now so what would I do about it I don't think there's anything to do except turn back I don't think there is nothing to do except exercise market power.
You indicate that you believe the media has a responsibility to instill fear in us, which is unwarranted lack of reason and therefore makes us unreasonable in the month of protecting ourselves an apparent contradiction what about the impact of media media in terms of encouraging violent acts in your profession? moments in my career I remember a case where two young men shot each other they shot each of them in a suicide pact in the head to commit suicide and they said they did it for a rock group called Judas Priest and their parents sued Judas Priest then I came to that case thinking oh this maybe I was an expert in the case of the record store that was being sued for selling them the record without warning them that it could lead to a ridiculous suicide I thought and came in thinking this Could be an interesting exploration of this question.
Can the media cause specific acts of violence? It turned out to be something quite different. That case, for me, became an exploration of the nature of youth in Ame. rich and violence in the United States, but the question: can the media cause specific violence? The closest answer I have has to do with a form of violence and that is murder, the attack on a public figure in the United States, it is an association between the murderer and the media. they think that together they invest years in crime and together they reap the rewards the same day there will be in every public figure attack that occurs about once every two and a half years by the way there will be in every public figure attack by newscasters saying describing the act as nonsense and yet his presence there is part of the sense that it makes we take the assassin and show you his son at home as the president him flying in an army of Unabomber helicopters as the president him in a caravan protected by federal officials like the president the way we portray them as Unabomber all three news magazines use the word genius to describe him on the cover not a bad compliment to be on the cover of every major newspaper with one word i I mean every major newsmagazine with the word genius, I think we could change the way we cover the attack on public figures and major media crimes, like the oklahoma city bombing, he was on the cover of time magazine of course and the top of every story is escorted in and out by federal officials.
I would like to see that change. I would like to see anonymity be given to targeting public figures and big media crime. I would like to see that. Murderer at the end of a long hallway handcuffed to a pipe guarded by a woman wearing a dirty old T-shirt I didn't want to see him hauled out by ten federal officers and taken away in a group of helicopters because we are creating stars in the process and people want being on the world stage we have given them a very good way to do it with a mr. of Bekaa, there is no doubt that all this is manifested in the gift of fear, the signs of survival that protect us from violence, the smaller and smaller footprint, naturally, I find it in terms of the fascination that you have for the subject and your professional involvement. a gift from you to me thank you for making that gift and thank you for joining me in the open
mindthank you very much and thank you in the audience i hope you will join us next time and if you would like a transcript of today's show please send four dollars by check or money order to open mind pio box seven nine seven seven fdr station new york new york 101 five-o meanwhile as an old friend used to say goodnight and good luck continuing the production of open mind has been made possible by Grants from the Rosalind P Walter Foundation The M We Know Foundation of New Jersey The Thomas and Teresa Milwaukee Foundation The New York Times Company Foundation The Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation at Teachers College of Columbia University and since the end corporate community root
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