Member Groups

The Catalyst
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law

October 2006, vol. 12, no. 1

The gift of fear: What listening to intuition can do for women lawyers

Imagine fear as a gift. Image being able to fine-tune your intuition in such a way that you can anticipate dangerous situations BEFORE they become dangerous... In your private life, as an employer, as an attorney, and as a parent. In his book, The Gift of Fear, (Dell Publishing) Gavin DeBecker asserts that all of this is possible, and more.

DeBecker’s book is based on the premise that intuition is not some mythical, unscientific concept, but is rather a scientifically-proveable clearing house of information which your unconscious mind then processes to come up with “hunches,” “gut feelings,” and premonitions. And, he says, women have the corner on the market.

This will come as no surprise to most women attorneys, but it creates for us an interesting paradox. We don’t want to admit to having or using “women’s intuition,” because we feel that to do so would damage our credibility in an already male-dominated, fact-based field. On the other hand, we know we have it, and we know it works. Intuition is what makes us know: when to ask that one last question during cross examination; when our client is lying; when the judge is about to rule for us, and why; when to nudge that other attorney during negotiations, and when to back off. 

Do men have and use intuition successfully? Absolutely. But DeBecker asserts that women are more attuned to their intuition because we are forced to use it more often as a survival mechanism. To illustrate, DeBecker asserts that a man’s greatest fear of a strange woman is that she will laugh at him. A woman’s greatest fear of a strange man is that he will rape or kill her. Like it or not, woman are in general the more physically vulnerable sex. 

DeBecker’s book was on my list of “I’ll get to it someday” reading in my capacity as a domestic violence attorney. It had been recommended at various seminars as a book that might provide good information for my clients. Once I picked it up, however, I couldn’t put it down. The book hits on topics which are vital for women in all of our different roles. Included among the highlights:

• How to safely deal with problem employees, especially ones who won’t leave.
• How to determine whether an admirer is a potential date, or a potential stalker.
• How to use fear – and intuition – to accurately recognize and respond to dangerous situations.
• How to distinguish worry from fear; how to lose one and use the other.
• How to teach our children to listen to THEIR intuition and participate in their own safety.
• How to choose a child care provider.
• How to gauge the lethality of domestic violence situations (for ourselves or for our clients) and determine the best response.

In all of these situations, DeBecker says that intuition tries to get our attention through (for example) nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, anxiety, hesitation, curiosity, and even dark humor. He tells the story of a group of office staff who were sorting though the mail at the California Forestry Association. In the mail was an unusual package addressed to the former president of the association. Much speculation was had on what might be in the package. When staff finally decided to open it, one man (Bob Taylor) said, jokingly, “I’m going back to my office before the bomb goes off.” According to DeBecker: ‘He walked down the hall to his desk, but before he sat down, he heard the enormous explosion that killed his boss. Because of intuition, that bomb didn’t kill Bob Taylor.’ (p.84). When DeBecker later talked with Taylor about the incident (attributed to the Unabomber), he was able to help Taylor recognize that he had seen the signs of danger all along: the strange way the package was addressed, its unusual weight, excessive postage and tape. His subconscious put the signs together and nudged him out of the room.

Over and over, DeBecker recounts stories of people whose lives were saved by listening to that small voice inside. He also talks about signals that should alert you, even if your intuition doesn’t. For example, a large portion of the book is devoted to recognizing and avoiding dangerous relationships. The major clue? Someone’s inability to take “no” for an answer. “Which part of the word ‘No’ didn’t you understand?” We’ve all said it, or at least thought it—to our children, our opposing counsel, our clients, our significant others. Every now and again, someone in our lives completely ignores the old adage that “no means no.” But repeated failure to hear or accept the word ‘no’ can signal a dangerous personality. 

The last section of the book discusses the difference between worry and fear. Fear, DeBecker writes, can save your life. Worry, on the other hand, can be dangerous. Worry has its roots in concerns other than real safety. As a result, it can be distracting to the point that when a dangerous situation actually occurs, we may be too wound up in our worries to notice. As an example, a woman may be terrified of walking through a dark parking lot by herself. When she reaches her apartment building she is so caught up in her relief at having survived the parking lot that the stranger in her lobby, who is dressed inappropriately and overly friendly, does not trip her radar.

Inner signals, outer signals… The Gift of Fear reveals a road map that had perhaps been there all along, but of which most of us are not aware. It is a map to safety by way of common sense and self awareness. DeBecker, as a security expert to a variety of government officials and celebrities, clearly knows his subject matter. His book is concise and engaging, and the information in it will make you think twice the next time your intuition tries to get your attention. Politically correct or not, “woman’s intuition” may not only make you a better attorney… It may also save your life.

Amie M. Simpson is the managing attorney of the Will County Legal Assistance Program, Inc., in Joliet. She specializes in domestic violence litigation.