the archivist March 26, 2011

It started, as many things do, with Metafilter.

Someone posted a link to a story which quickly engaged me (at one of those thesis-work moments during which I want nothing more than to be distracted), about a blogger facing down her stalker. It was a gripping and well-written story–I read every part in one sitting. It began a meditation for me on protecting oneself and one’s loved ones. And confronting nagging doubts about past times when one has failed to do just that. (One. Distancing. Aware. Not exploring.)

It struck me how being quick with effective, well-reasoned replies can save one’s life when dealing with law enforcement just as much as self-defense skills can when confronted with violence. (Reminded me of another book I’d read long ago.) But ultimately, as Shreve’s story shows, the legal system is more effective with punishment, not prevention, of crime.

Helpful commenters on the blog repeatedly suggested one book to her, which she finally discusses at length: The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. I had seen the author on Oprah many times back in the day. I think I even read an excerpt of the book in USA Weekend or Parade or whatever was coming in the Sunday paper then. But I had never actually read the book itself. So I requested it from the library, and read it through in a couple of days.

And wow. It’s inspiring and uncomfortable and common sense, and I wish I’d read it in 1997 like so many others did. Having already read Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, the concepts of listening to intuition and managing one’s own emotional responses were nothing new.

The discussions of power and control and the unhealthy patterns that lead to violence were profound, and have kept me awake nights since then. Not in fear, mind you, but in memories. I’ve allowed No to be negotiated way too many times. And that has led to nothing good. Of course, in comparison to the stories recounted in the book, my troubles have been nothing, a hangnail, a papercut. But there’s something there, a universality, a there-but-for-the-grace-go-I connection.

Thanks to Oprah, you can take Gavin de Becker’s threat assessment test online, for free. I took it. The next couple of months are significant, after all. That won’t go unmarked, though probably only in a verbal way. I already knew that, but it helps to reason out the situation with a computer program, somehow. Though the computer’s message, and Gavin de Becker’s message, is to trust in yourself, in what you already know, and don’t talk yourself out of it.

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