Friday, April 2, 2010

Better safe than polite

In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker says that humans have been given marvelous, complex, highly evolved instincts designed to keep us out of harm's way. The problem is that we override internal alarms in the name of being "polite" or "reasonable".

He illustrates his point with the following example: Say that you are waiting for an elevator. The doors open and you see someone already inside that sends a chill down your spine (or turns your stomach into a knot.) But, it would be so rude, even offensive, to stare at the person and then refrain from getting on the elevator, right?

You decide to ignore your own message, telling yourself that being afraid of someone you've never met makes no sense and determine that it instead makes a lot of sense to get into a small, sound proof, inescapable metal box with someone you instinctively are afraid of.

This story blew me away. Because I make these types of decisions all the time: doing things against my better judgment in an attempt to "make sense". Making an elaborate intellectual effort to convince myself my instincts cannot possibly be right. And, I love my instincts! They are so often correct! They were put there to help me!

I've decided they deserve more respect than this. Not just mine - everyone's. So I invite you to listen to yours too.


sencho said...

Great post, and a very sensible observation. One caveat is that this rule can potentially be over applied by some, leading to nearly complete isolation.

David said...

I often think about this, Dushka, and come to the same conclusion each time that we NEED people (i.e. everyone) to make these contradictory decisions because otherwise our little society as we know it would melt down. For example: you tell the smelly/strange person in the elevator: "WOW! You're strange and smelly!" Hey get slapped....because the strange /smelly person decided not to hold back either. The next thing you know, you've been fired from your job for getting into a fight with a complete stranger in the office elevator!...all because you trusted your first instincts! Well, that's my theory, anyway. :-)

Dushka said...

True, Sencho. But my belief is that if you learn to listen to your instincts you respect them, rather than overreact to them.

David, this is more about staying safe - not about being hurtful. I'd never tell anyone they're smelly. Unless I was a totally desperate Emma at the gym. :)