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.