A Life Without Fear
How to Cope with the Threat of Terrorism
Gavin de Becker, CEO
Gavin de Becker and Associates
reprinted from Bottom Line/Personal, August 15, 2002
Don't let the
continued threat of terrorism cheat you out of the pleasures of living.
You take all sorts of risks when you drive. If you focused only on the
risks, you would never leave home. Instead, you compartmentalize the danger so that you can drive when you need
Do the same thing with the risk of terrorism. Could someone launch a
nuclear attack on the US? Sure. Could an asteroid hit Earth? Absolutely. But the odds are overwhelming that neither
will happen anytime soon.
Here's how to feel safe in an unsafe world...
Don't believe you are powerless. Before September
11, Americans were under the illusion that we were safe from foreign enemies.
We have replaced that illusion with another one
We fear that our enemies can attack us at any time, in any place, and
there is nothing our government can do to stop them.
The reality is that our government is on high alert against terrorists. So
are 250 million Americans.
Examples: Passengers have
intervened to stop attacks on four different Greyhound buses. A terrorist carrying a bomb in his shoe on an
international flight was seized by other passengers.
When we act like victims, we give in to our
Put the risk of terrorist violence in
perspective. It is natural to see the latest risk as the greatest risk.
Putting things in perspective helps us see that the newest risk -- while threatening -- is just one of many
risks we face each day.
The violence unleashed against the US was shocking because it was so
unexpected and killed so many people at one time.
But our lives are filled with dangers. During the next 24 hours, 400
Americans will be killed or wounded by gunfire. That statistic is not meant to alarm -- only to put things into
Smoking kills more people every day than lightning does in a decade. But
there are people who ease their fear of being struck by lightning during a storm by smoking a cigarette. It isn't
logical -- but anxieties rarely are.
I have friends who were afraid to visit Egypt because of the threat of
terrorism. So they stayed home in Detroit, where the homicide rate is many times higher
Turn off the news. TV news presents us
with alarming images that take our worst fears a step further than we had imagined. When you turn off the
tube, you'll quickly find out, as I have, that you're not missing anything.
Get your information from print media. Even though articles and photos can
paint vivid pictures, they are usually less alarming than video images.
TV connects you to nothing except the illusion that you "know" the news
anchors and reporters. Establish real connections and reduce anxiety by talking with friends, family members,
neighbors and coworkers.
Recognize the power of your natural survival
instinct. Each of us has an astonishing innate defense system. It is
built around our intuition, which can protect us more effectively than any other force on
Thanks to intuition, we know when we're in danger even when we don't know
why. It may not be immediately clear where the danger lies. But intuition lets us know that there is danger and we
need to protect ourselves.
Example: The intuition of
one man helped defeat one of the most serious terrorist threats the US has ever faced. In 1942, German saboteurs
landed on Long Island, New York. They planned to panic Americans by bombing department stores and bridges. When
John Cullen, a local Coast Guardsman, was strolling on the beach and saw the men, his intuition told him something
wasn't right. He alerted the authorities. The German agents were arrested before they could carry out their
The tragedy of September 11 alerted Americans to pay attention to their
intuition. That alone will make our nation safer -- not only from terrorism, but from all types of
Bottom Line/Personalinterviewed Gavin de Becker, CEO, Gavin de
Becker and Associates, a consulting firm that advises such clients as the US Supreme Court and Central
Intelligence Agency on how to assess threats and deal with violent behavior, Studio City, California. He is
author of the best-selling The Gift of Fear(Dell), and Fear
Less (Little, Brown).