Excerpts from Apprentice Essays on The Gift of Fear

07.26.17 by Jackie Seijo and Cyrus Sethna

Jackie and Cyrus are an apprentices in the self-defense teacher training program. For their final written assignment, they were asked to read and respond to The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. This is excerpted from reflections they wrote as part of their preparation to be self-defense teachers.


Generally speaking, I very much agree with what De Becker has to say about safety. In fact, I not only read The Gift of Fear within a few days of buying it, I also bought another one of his books called Fear Less and even spent a little time researching how one might gain employment at Gavin De Becker and Associates. To me, a lot of what he says just seems to be common sense –but so much so that people tend to forget it. At times, De Becker’s “I’m the expert” attitude borders on unkind.

But, truly, he stresses these ideas to empower us, as individuals in society, to take charge of our own safety rather than believing that the police or the government is going to take care of everything and protect us from all harm. That is the furthest thing from the truth. Literally the TSA has never prevented a hijacking of an aircraft; passengers have. I think what he has to say is a wake-up call and whether or not we listen is now our choice.

Of course, there are problems. De Becker really only talks about violence from stranger to stranger and barely mentions domestic violence or the kind of violence most people experience from their loved ones/friends, which is so much more common. He does include significant information comparing the number of deaths in war to the amount of women who will be killed by their boyfriends or husbands. I felt that this was extremely effective. Is it the most effective way to fight domestic violence? No. But, at least he mentions it, and maybe others will become aware as a result of this book (or a self-defense class). If it is possible to ease this fear of “stranger danger,” we can use the rest of our brain power on other, more frequent kinds of violence that need our attention.

I recommend this reading to anybody who wants to learn more about the value of listening to instincts. No, it’s not the end-all be-all, but I think it can be very effective.


In his book, The Gift of Fear, writer Gavin De Becker outlines the instinctual components of the human psyche that can keep us safe. He argues that humans are already armed with instinctual self-preservation behaviors that are evolutionarily a fundamental component of the human condition. He spends the majority of his time supporting his claim with substantial evidence, study, and academic research.

Though I largely agree with this premise, The Gift of Fear falls short as a comprehensive self-defense philosophy because the idea that complete strangers often seek to do other complete strangers harm is simply not true. Street harassment is damaging and hurtful, but such exchanges are statistically unlikely to further escalate into runaway, out-of-control violence. A point that a classmate in my self-defense instructor training cohort made which resounded particularly strongly with me is those most capable of doing us harm likely share our DNA or our beds– meaning family or intimate partner relationships.

As a future self-defense instructor, I agree with De Becker’s foundational tenet, that fear is an evolutionary gift to be acknowledged. Fear is an emotion, and all emotions are valid. However, rather than encouraging readers to be afraid and avoid these situations altogether by nursing minor agoraphobia, I look forward to encouraging future participants in Thousand Waves self-defense programs to confront their fears, take pride in themselves, celebrate their effort, and live large– the lives they want to live.

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