Author Archive

Breaking Up with My Bank

Last week I closed my Bank of America checking account and transferred it to The Golden 1 Credit Union. The week before, I transferred my safe deposit box from BofA to First Northern Bank. As soon as I can claim my last “reward,” I’ll stop using my BofA Visa card.


It didn’t give me any joy to do this. I’ve been a Bank of America customer for 36 years, ever since my parents set me up with my first checking account right out of high school in 1976. That was when Bank of America was headquartered in San Francisco and the teller was the wife of our family dentist and my classmate’s mother.


In some ways, ending my relationship with Bank of America feels like a divorce. We drifted apart. BofA’s corporate values aren’t my community values. When the pretty young manager asked me why I was closing my account, I told her I couldn’t bank with an organization so mired in the foreclosure scandals and that continually adds and increases fees. She responded, “Oh, personal reasons.”


Personal reasons. When you get too-big-to-fail, I guess you don’t see your customers’ values as your own any more.


Just like a divorce, there were uncomfortable moments to our break-up.


I stood a good 15 minutes before a teller ushered me into the bank vault to retrieve my safe deposit box items, then another wait for a manager to officially sign me out. The discomfort will be worth the $52 I save annually by having the same size box at First Northern.


After shifting my automatic payments and direct deposit to the Golden 1, BofA hit me with a new $12 fee. When I called to ask what this was for, Ariel from the call center told me, “A decision has been made to charge Californians without direct deposit or a balance of $1,500 a $12 monthly maintenance fee. If you haven’t gotten that notice, it should come in the mail soon. If you can’t do that, then, with a direct deposit of only $250, you can get a checking account for only $8.95 a month.”


“I’ve been a customer of BofA for 36 years. I don’t want to pay this $12 fee,” I stated emphatically.


“We can give you a one-time courtesy reprieve on that fee. Hold on while I check with my manager.” Just like in divorce, asking clearly and directly gets you what you want.


I wonder how many millions of dollars this too-big-to-fail bank reaps from folks like me who hesitate to go through the hassle of a bank break-up? Fortunately, on the other side of my break-up are local bankers offering me free checking. Silly me for being loyal for so long,


The final act of closing my 36-year checking account was the hardest. The day before, a teller and I had had a nice chit-chat when I came in to pay my Visa bill. She smiled in recognition as I approached, then tightened as I asked her to close my account.


Such a pleasant woman; too bad she works for a company that has lost its way, and with it, reliable, longtime customers like me.


This article was published in the Davis Enterprise:

Judith MacBrine dba The Mirror Group © Copyright 2012

Part 1: Being a Great Team Member: Owning Your Space

There he was, Lucas Macdonald, standing in the middle of the street.  There I was, on my bicycle stopped at the traffic light, tears streaming down my face.


It was a little after 8:15 AM at the corner of Anderson Road and Rutgers Drive in Davis, California.  I was on my morning bike ride.  The school bell at the elementary school across the street would sound in less than ten minutes.  Parents and children – walking, biking and driving – were arriving en mass.  Commuters were rushing to work.  University students were on the way to classes.  The street was full.  It was chaos.


Except for Lucas.  He literally stopped traffic.  And how he did it moved me to tears.


Lucas Macdonald is 27.  He’s not someone you would likely notice if he passed by on the street.  His hair is held back in a long pony tail.  He rides a bike to work, in shorts and a black shirt, barefoot.  Once at work – a job he’s held for over five years – he changes into sandals, puts on his reflective vest and pulls out the tool of his trade – a beat up, hand-held, red stop sign.


Lucas is the neighborhood crossing guard.  And he owns this intersection.  It’s his job to keep the crossing children – sometimes attentive, sometimes distracted – safe.  He manages the traffic lights, trots (yes, literally trots) out to his spot in the middle of the street all the while holding his stop sign high over his head.  Back and forth from north-south to east-west, he speeds, leading the way across the street and holding back traffic.  He exudes an easy confidence and a relaxed energy that is a joy to watch.


Owning your space is critical to being a successful team member.  According to Shambhala Buddhism,[1] there are several aspects to owning your space (or “arranging the throne of the king” as it’s called).

  1. Be a citizen.  Know you belong to the team and the people who compose it.
  2. Take your place.  You have a role on the team, know it, claim it and bring your whole-hearted energy to it.
  3. Know your importance.  You don’t have to be the official leader to be important.  Each team member has an integral part to play.


Lucas epitomizes these principles.  He belongs to the community of that intersection.  If he were absent, he’d be missed – not just by the kids he protects, but by the people who drive by and love watching him at work.  He owns his work, in a way that I’ve never seen another crossing guard own the work before.  His display of energy and joy moved me to tears that morning.  It’s not a possessive “owning” that would distract from the job, but a joyful embodiment of it.  A way that fills the space fully.  Finally, he knows his importance.  It was really quite simple.  When I told him how impressed I was by his ownership of the intersection, he laughed, “Well if I don’t own the intersection, the cars won’t stop.”


Think of the teams you are a member of.  Do you own your place on them?  If you do, then know you are a thing of beauty…that can stop traffic, literally and metaphorically.

[1] A form of secular Tibetan Buddhism.

This article was published in the Davis Enterprise:

Judith MacBrine dba The Mirror Group © Copyright 2012

Dreamdoor Series: Part 3 – Eldership

Eldership grows in part from having experienced the issues yourself, having known yourself as both victim
and oppressor…Elders themselves have made the leap from one-sidedness to compassion.

~Arnold Mindell, PhD.  Sitting in the Fire.  Page 51.



It was my first political meeting.  We were starting to organize a local chapter.  The regional coordinator was in the area and called an impromptu early morning meeting to give us a quick orientation.  One of us had stepped forward to be the chapter leader.  The rest of us were ready to assist.


The meeting hadn’t gone for more than a few minutes before things became toxic.  One of our team abruptly criticized the leader for a series of recent, unclear communications.  The leader became immediately defensive.  The toxic back-and-forth escalated to the point of the leader taking on the role of victim and declaring a desire to leave the group.


Welcome to the team.


I know toxic communication when I hear it; in part because I’m a systems coach and toxic communication is a common failing of teams.  But my real expertise comes from my own unconscious use of toxic communication and having it damage relationships – both personal and professional.  I am a recovering toxic communicator.  I know toxins, especially the ones served up in this meeting:

  • Harsh Start Up – Beginning a conversation with an abrupt, negative and accusatory tone.  (Yup, been there, done that…)
  • Criticism / Blame – A complaint that attacks a person’s character or personality.  (I can chalk up the end of my first marriage in part to my mastery of this toxin.)
  • Defensiveness – Turning criticism and blame away, often back on the original criticizer.  Rather than diffusing the situation, defensiveness escalates it.  (Score three-for-three.)


The regional coordinator stepped in and quieted everyone down.  The incident was about to be stepped over when I stepped in.


“Before we move on, I just need to say a few things.  First, I hear both of your concerns.  You,” indicating the criticizer, “really want us to have clear, concise communications.  I agree.  This is really important.”


“And you”, indicating the defender, “want us to see that you are doing your best.  Thank you for being the one who stepped forward to lead the group.”


“As we go forward, can we remember that we are all coming from a place of good intent?”


The effect was immediate.  Everyone took a deep breath.  The feeling in the room softened and the meeting proceeded in a productive manner.  The leader agreed that it would be good to get some help with communications in the future.  Would anyone step up?


It was not my intent to step forward that day.  In fact it was the last thing I planned to do.  But I had come to take a stand and bring awareness.  My first lesson in eldership had begun.  “…The leader follows a plan; the elder honors the direction of a mysterious and unknown river.1


I was in.



[1] Mindell, Sitting in the Fire, Page 184.


Judith MacBrine dba The Mirror Group © Copyright 2012

Dreamdoor Series: Part 2 – Take a Stand

“…Facilitation is everyone’s responsibility. “Leader” types without facilitator-ship are old fashioned, thinking awareness+power are theirs. Yes, 99+1, all please take a firm stand, then all, please use awareness+
OCCUPY EVERYTHING . This helps the world change from power to awareness paradigms.”

~, December 2011, Community??



In the back of my mind I heard Arny Mindell say, “Take a stand.”


I love to watch the CBS Sunday Morning nature segment.  Being transported to some beautiful place on earth with beautiful sounds of the elements and the flora and the fauna makes a good start to the week.  Overtime, my lazy Sunday morning TV-watching habit expanded to include the whole 90-minute show and then the following program, Face the Nation.  What juxtaposition:  the beauty of nature and the ugliness of Washington, DC.  I could hardly watch Face the Nation, but I did.


Take a stand.


Like many progressives, I get a lot of political emails.  Two organizations caught my eye.  The first presented political content that aligned with my world view.  The second presented a collaborative, respectful political process that aligned with my stand that “everyone is right…only partially,” so let’s work collaboratively together to get our growing list of frightening problems handled.


It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of our political system.  That’s probably why I liked being a government bureaucrat rather than a political staffer.  Contrary to popular belief, bureaucrats transform legislation into programs and projects.  Politicians…not so much these days.  So much nastiness.  What can one middle-aged woman, living comfortably in educated, affluent Davis  do that could possibly make a difference?


Take a stand.


But who am I?  Someone trained to “sit in the fire” like Arny Mindell.


Take a stand.


But who am I?  Someone trained to be present as a response-able Shambhala “spiritual warrior.”


Take a stand.


But who am I?  Someone certified as a systems coach who can listen and call forward both the majority and marginalized voices of the system and hold a space for “deep democracy” to happen.


But it’s soooo much easier to stay hidden and safe.


Take a stand.


On one side of the Political Dreamdoor was someone upset about our political system, watching from the sidelines.  On the other side of the Political Dreamdoor was someone who actively works to bring about the “what’s next” of our political system.


In April, I stepped through the door and made my first Congressional visit for the group wanting to change our political process.  Despite my three decades in government, I was surprised how nervous I was, just talking to a legislator’s field representative.  In May I took another step by joining my first political protest sponsored by the political group that aligns with my world view.


I took a stand…and walked from the sidelines…through the dreamdoor…into the fire…challenging myself to be aware.


Judith MacBrine dba The Mirror Group © Copyright 2012