Sign up for my newsletter Click here!

Safety Lesson # 1 – Listen to Your Intuition

When I was in college, I chose the adventure of doing a semester abroad in Liberia, West Africa in the Fall of 1989. I went there on a gut feeling knowing that it was the right thing for me. It was, but not in the way I expected when I chose to go.

In my first month in Liberia, I was in Monrovia (the capital city, a few hours away from the college) to buy supplies and wanted to go out for an evening at the club that my Liberian roommate had made sound so exciting. Before I left the hotel to look for the club, I had a feeling that something was going to go wrong that night so I hid my money in my hotel room – in four or five different places in the room. Did I listen to that gut feeling and stay in? No, of course not. I went out with the friend that had come to Monrovia with me.

We made a bad choice of streets to search first for the cool club…Gurley Street. We did not find the club. Instead we were found by a rogue soldier with an M16 who decided to take us for a ride in a taxi to a deserted part of town. This led to a night of fear, anger, creativity, power, and gut feelings — some I ignored (to our detriment) and some I respected (which helped lead to our safety).

When I look back on that night, it feels like a crazy movie that could never be true. So many choices, coincidences, and even clichés come to life. I can see clearly in hindsight that I did pretty much everything against what I would teach in a self-defense class now… but somehow I was lucky and we made it through the abduction mostly unscathed.

Some self-defense tips (that I did wrong):

  1. Don’t go where you shouldn’t be — Don’t go to the “bad” part of town, especially at night. Don’t go down dark alleys or other areas that seem unsafe — they probably are. Don’t go where you don’t know the social rules or where lots of people will be
  2. Keep your distance between yourself and a possible threat — don’t let them close the distance. [I use the term “threat” for anyone that could be a potential danger to you. In this case, the man with the M16 was the threat. I first heard/read this term in Rory Miller’s book, “Scaling Force.”]
  3. Don’t get in a car with a threat. [In this story, I honestly do not remember it being a choice. I think he pushed us in faster than we knew what was happening. But if we had kept our distance from him in the first place, as in Tip #2, he would not have been able to push us in.]
  4. If someone asks for money (or your wallet or purse) and it seems like that’s all they really want — give it to them! It’s not worth the danger that you put yourself in if you deny that request. [Would he have stopped the cab if I gave him $80? I will never know.]

Some other tips (that I actually did right):

  1. If you have been taken someplace in a car and the threat wants you to get out with him/her, do everything you can to stay in that car (and hopefully use it to get away).
  2. If you don’t see anyone that might be able to help, don’t give up — yell for help anyway. Try yelling “FIRE!” rather than just “Help!” as it is more likely to draw a crowd.
  3. Stay as calm as you can so you can stay in your creative brain, not in flight, fight, or freeze. Anger is sometimes helpful for staying focused in situations like this, but again, not excessive anger that blinds you to solutions.
  4. Trust that there are solutions that you might not be able to see immediately. Do everything you can think of to stay safe until a solution becomes clear or even just a little less fuzzy. Sometimes you don’t know if it will be a solution, but it’s a step you can take that is not what the threat planned or probably wants…so take it and see what other opportunities open up for you. [In my case, I trusted the guy who said he was from immigration…my gut told me he was on my side. I didn’t know if his plan would work, but it was better than getting out of the car in that dark, deserted place with a man with an M16.]
  5. Follow your intuition…even when the danger seems to have passed. [I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that we needed to switch rooms after they left. I’m glad I acted on that and asked the front desk for a different room.]

I’m so grateful the evening ended the way it did. Now that it’s a story in the distant past, it’s interesting to tell it and see the self-defense lessons woven through it…especially to see how intuition played such a big part of the story.

When have you had a gut feeling you listened to? Was it a good choice? How about one you ignored? What happened then?