by ASHLEIGH MUTIMER
I hate self help books.
The kind of hate you would usually reserve for a cheating ex-boyfriend. The moment someone talks about affirmations or visualising my goals I dust off my Judgey Mc-Judgey pants, nod my head, murmur a few “Hmmms” and visualise them face-planting mid Downward Dog.
As they say though, there is an exception to every rule.
And no one was more surprised than I was when Gavin De Becker’s self-help book The Gift of Fear saved my life.
Really. Stay with me.
Let me start off with De Becker’s credentials. He is one of the world’s best-known experts on the prediction and management of violence. These days he runs a consulting firm in the US that advises government agencies, corporations and media figures on the assessment of threats and hazards.
Pretty much if you’re Meryl Streep and you have a stalker, De Becker is your first call. And when Oprah is your best buddy, you have to be doing something right… right?
But how on earth did 432 pages of a book save my life? Glad you asked.
At 21 I went backpacking through Europe on my own. Getting to Barcelona meant an awful 10-hour bus ride and I decided to go and see the new Harry Potter movie to unwind.
By the time I found the cinema the only session left was for 9.30pm. Completely forgetting how long the Potter movies go for, I bought a ticket and consequently found myself outside the cinema after midnight needing to get back to my hostel. Mentally kicking myself, I started walking back towards the train station along a fairly well lit but deserted path.
Then a group of five young men came into view, walking towards me, laughing and talking amongst themselves. Almost as soon as they saw me, I could feel their mood change. They started calling out in Spanish as they walked towards me… and an instantaneous and genuine fear for my life transformed me into the love child of Usain Bolt and the Road Runner.
Gone. In a flash.
Did I look like a crazy person? Absolutely. But there has never been a doubt in my mind that I did the right thing. After telling a friend this story, she asked if I would have done the same thing back home. And the scariest part is that I don’t know. I truly hope so.
But if I had spoken Spanish…were I able to understand what these men were saying to me…would I have allowed myself to be drawn into a conversation I instinctively knew I didn’t want to have? I hope not.
This from a 2008 interview between Oprah and Gavin De Becker:
But here’s the thing – like most people, I never want to be rude. If a complete stranger starts talking to me I will always say something back. Well, unless they looked like Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger…I’m not that well mannered.
And there’s every chance that those boys in Barcelona just wanted to take me to dinner to meet their mums. But I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, so all I had to go on was my gut. And trusting my gut feeling that something was about to go terribly wrong, I ran for my life like I have never felt the need to run before or since.
If you find yourself in a situation and you just know something doesn’t add up – you have NOTHING to lose by trusting that niggling doubt. This is the main point of De Becker’s book.
Remember that your intuition “is always in response to something…it always ha(s) your best interests at heart.” And in a potentially dangerous situation, your instincts will be your greatest ally. Why?
Because in real life the good guys look just like the bad guys.
In the movies, the bad guy is pretty easy to spot – he’s the one wearing the mask and running towards you with a knife while scary music plays in the background. THAT guy. Would you give him the time of day?
HELL TO THE NO.
But until real life comes with a soundtrack, how do you pick the good guys from the bad late at night in a deserted car park? Intuition.
This from De Becker:
“Remember the nicest guy, the guy with no self-serving agenda whatsoever, the one who wants nothing from you, won’t approach you at all. You are not comparing the man who approaches you to all men, the vast majority of whom have no sinister intent. Instead you are comparing him to other men who make unsolicited approaches to women alone.”
Police officers will tell you that most crimes are crimes of opportunity. I just barely reach 5”1, on average I weigh in at around 53 kilos and I have a vagina. Like most women, I am not visually threatening.
And friends, that makes us vulnerable. I wish it didn’t but it does.
So sometimes, you just have to trust yourself and remember, “you are an animal of nature, fully endowed with hearing, sight, intellect and dangerous defenses. You are not easy prey; so don’t act like you are.”
Ash has spent most of the last 6 years working in hospitality or traveling. An expert procrastinator, she is renowned for her hilarious sense of direction, a co-dependent relationship with her phone and a severe addiction to all things caffeinated. You can find her on Twitter here.
How do you keep yourself safe?