Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly

Posted: Friday, January 17, 2014, 8:35 am

In brief

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Chicken soup for the soul of anyone who takes personal safety and personal growth seriously.

Smile at Strangers is perhaps best described as a mash-up of Eastern philosophy, Western memoir and self-defense how-to. It's a kind of chicken soup for the soul for anyone who takes both personal safety and personal growth seriously.

This isn't to suggest readers will achieve nirvana. In the vernacular of Zen Buddhism, Schorn's primer is closer to kensho; the initial awakening experience. It shows us something new, something different. It shows us that personal safety doesn't have to be reactive and it doesn't have to be rooted in fear. That's a message that's not just refreshing, it's also empowering.

As to the safety element, Schorn eschews blow-by-blow self-defense instruction for an approach that's considerably more strategic. She addresses broader themes like setting boundaries, making eye contact, de-escalation and the power of saying "no." The presumption is that by thinking of self-defense in the context of a larger worldview (rather than as a series of discrete physical actions), readers will acquire a meaningful foundation on which to build.

Smile at Strangers is also a personal journey, one where readers learn along with the author. As events unfold, some common assumptions about safety are questioned and some conventional approaches are refuted. Frankly, that's a good thing. As Schorn makes clear, our typically fear-based, reactive responses to danger are often counter-productive.

Delivered through a series of insightful (and often humorous) vignettes, Smile at Strangers offers hope to those who believe that strength and safety can spring from something more worthy of our spirit than fear.