The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

Posted on October 20, 2011. Filed under: Books, Personal Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Every once in a while I find myself in a non-fiction kick. During those times I tend to go a bit overboard on biographies, memoirs and inspirational/self-help titles. An advice columnist that I really enjoy following, Carolyn Hax, recommends this book to many people for a variety of reasons. After hearing it time and time again I finally trekked to the library and put in the request to borrow it, and I am so glad that I did. I have recommended this to quite a few people since reading it, the impression it left on me is definitely a lasting one.

I personally feel that every young woman, going to college, in college, living on her own, moving to a new city or living in the same city she has lived in her entire life should read this book. This book teaches life lessons and life skills that many of us girls are lacking. This is not about self-defense and not meant to scare women about the dangers of the world but it is educational and excellent. There is no substitute for learning the information provided in this book – I wish I had read it years earlier.

Gavin De Becker is a pioneering advisor on navigating dangerous and risky situations involving assignation, stalking and basic survival fear. De Becker owns an agency that protects public figures including politicians and celebrities. Through reading his book you can tell that he is the leader in this type of knowledge. He is smart, he is confident and it shows throughout the book. Additionally, De Becker is confident that with this knowledge we can also be safer, which makes your confidence rise as well.

De Becker gives us some of his back-story on how he ended up in this field and goes through some difficult stories about his childhood. Hearing about his childhood helps us really understand how he was able to hone in and fully develop the heightened awareness he has for survival skills. We also get an excellent glimpse into the mind of someone whose sole profession is protecting others. Getting in on that thought-process is enlightening and helps us better understand how we can start to think that way and protect ourselves better.

The main topics in this book are female safety focused. While De Becker doesn’t want to stereotype, it is fact that many of the situations he describes in the book are female based problems. While men can be victims in the same scenarios, the truth is that women find themselves as the victims more often, focusing on what really is occurring is helpful to us to better prepare ourselves. Topics explored are stalking, trusting our instincts and learning to how to listen to the guidance our instincts are providing, public figure attacks, intimate violence, occupational violence, threats, and violence from children. There are many situations described in the book that we may never ever encounter, but having the knowledge in us ready in case we are in that situation is invaluable. We will never regret teaching ourselves what to do in the rare case we find ourselves there.

The best take-home message for me was learning how to trust our instincts. This book is not meant to make us more afraid or allow fear to take over our lives, it is rather about learning how not to be fearful because we have the ability and knowledge (after reading this) to safely navigate dangers that are presented to us. De Becker really focuses on what biology has given us and how we are ignoring it. Part of us ignoring these survival signals are culture – we are being taught to act in ways that go against this biology and are putting ourselves at risk. De Becker is helping women to break through that culture to put our personal safety first.

As I said before I think this is a book that every young woman should read, most likely more than once. It helped give me courage and strength and after reflecting on what I had read it also did make me feel less freightened and more in charge. I wouldn’t put myself in danger on purpose just to prove that I am in touch with my intuition but I did learn how to trust my intuition more and have thought of some ‘plans’ that I would carry out in a variety of situations, mentally preparing myself ahead of time should I find myself there. I also reflected back on previous encounters where I put many of these biological tools aside in an effort to just ‘be nice’ and I can recognize how I purposefully ignore bells and whistles and warnings and I’m ready to make different choices in those some situations in the future. Excellent read – don’t be scared, fear truly is a gift!

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Posted on April 28, 2011. Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I know I am a little late on reading and reviewing this book since it was quite popular a few months to a year ago but better late than never! If you haven’t read this yet I could not recommend more than you run out and rent it from the library, or purchase it. This was such an excellent book and an absolute pleasure to read!

The Help revolves around house maids, well-to-do women, education, and desegregation in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960s. Kathryn Stockett really takes you back in time with her characters, Aibeleen, Skeeter, Minny and Hilly. Hilly is an overly opinionated ignorant woman who enjoys having full control over everyone, her domestic help, her frail mother, her friends and the town. She thinks she is much more important and well-educated than she is, and throughout the book she is frequently the source of drama, strife and anger (from both the reader and other characters). Wherever Hilly is, trouble usually follows.

Skeeter is the heroine in this novel. She is well-educated and smart, and maybe the author was onto something with having her looks as nothing more than average, or less than average, because it allows us to look past her outer shell and into her core and her heart, which is clearly pure gold. Skeeter is from a very conservative town and household. She was extremely close with her maid, who she considered a second mother (or maybe better than a mother growing up), her childhood maid disappears before she is due to come home from college and it may be out of a gut instinct that this person would never have abandoned her that she starts to create a journal of the Jackson maids. She is dying to become a full-time writer and thinks that a book chronicling what it is really like being a maid for a white woman in Jackson could be a breakthrough, and she is correct. What Skeeter maybe didn’t fully anticipate was the stress this would cause for herself and those contributing their stories as well as the tough decisions she would make – now that she knew all about her friends’ dirty laundry did she still want to consider them friends?

Aibileen is Elizabeth’s maid. Elizabeth is Hilly’s best friend and I don’t think Elizabeth could make any decision without first knowing what Hilly wants her to do, she relies on Hilly for entirely too much and it is clear that Elizabeth has some morals but throws her beliefs out the window to stay in Hilly’s good graces. Aibileen is the strongest of the maids in terms of spirit. She believes in Skeeters project and works with her to find others who also believe in the project. Aibileen and Skeeter truly believe that this book will bring about change, they are only hoping the changes that are brought are positive.

Working on this project requires complete secrecy. The maids cannot tell their families, they cannot allow their employers to find out and Skeeter must never get caught on the wrong side of the tracks in a neighborhood she doesn’t belong in. There are many times in this book where you think it is going to take a turn for the worse and your beloved characters will be found out but you have to continue turning the pages to see if their work pays off. If completed the book will rock the world, it will show the rest of the country how backwards and behind Jackson Mississippi truly is, and will help desegregate the south that holds on so dearly to is segregated history.

Reading about the experiences the maids tell Skeeter are shocking from a modern perspective but most likely not that far from the 1960s truth, which is unfortunate. These maids were the heart and soul of many childhoods and taught many children about life, but once those kids were old enough to understand their parents they didn’t have the same love in their hearts for their maids and the pattern would start again when those children would have children. The ‘housewife’ that really stood out was Cecilia.

Minny was Cecilia’s maid. Minny was unlike the other maids in that she caused a fuss over things and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She had a short fuse and blew it easily. Celia was until the other wives in that she had no children and didn’t need a maid but also didn’t have an upbringing that included domestic help, or domestic skills of her own. Many of the women employed maids so that they simply didn’t have to do the work, but if necessary they were able to cook, clean and possibly take care of their children. Celia couldn’t cook or clean but also couldn’t break through into Hilly’s circle, which was all she desperately wanted. Minny learned a lot about truly caring for another person through her time with Celia and Celia in turn learned a lot about herself and how mixed up her priorities were. Watching that relationship unfold was truly memorable and touching.

This book can make us all feel grateful for the freedoms we have all won and the freedoms we enjoy. It reminds us of a time that we may, or may not have, lived through and how far we have come, together. Togetherness is the glue to this story. Anything is possible if we can come together and work as a team. Compassion and empathy are also just as important. As I read the last page of this book and reflected on what I had read, I learned that we all have it in us to feel compassion for other people and we can each be a change agent, in the troubling world we live in knowing that we can do something small that means a lot to so many people and truly makes such a big difference is a good feeling.

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