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Home > Columns > Ross Robertson > June, 2006 - At the Bank
by Ross Robertson

At the Bank by Ross Robertson


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I generally go to my bank about once a month. I take all of my receipts, enter them into my records, and go make my meager deposit. I always look forward to the errand, and I always make a point to get out of my car and go into the lobby.

The reason for my enjoyment is not the rush of money lust that comes from seeing my holdings skyrocket. I am, after all, a professional aikido instructor and mountains of gold are just not, at this time, part of the bargain. No, my pleasure is very simple: the people there are friendly.

Southerners in the United States have long had a reputation for hospitality and open-handed friendliness. The city I live in -- Austin, Texas -- has had a particular reputation for being laid back and easy going. Unfortunately all that is changing. Austin is now a big city, and the South has lost some of its charm, even as it moves toward cosmopolitanism and sheds some of its more dreadful (racist) characteristics.

Anyway, the branch of my bank has managed to cultivate a remarkable small town feel. One woman in particular knew me by name by the second time I went in there. Now, every time I go there when she's on duty, as soon as I step across the threshold I am met with her warm, sincere, "Halloo Mr. Robertson!"

Makes me feel like a millionaire. Makes me feel special and important. I secretly look for excuses to bring my friends along on the errand so they can see my VIP treatment and marvel that maybe there's something about me they never knew.

In reality, I'm not that kind of special. It's the woman behind the counter who's the special one. From what I've observed, she treats everyone that way. I don't mind that in the least. It's really nice to go into a business establishment where we're all special, where we're all wanted. Where are names matter, and they ask after our health and interests.

So, why exactly am I bringing you this Kodak moment?

Well, aside from the feel-good warm fuzzies I get, the environment of this bank really fascinates me. I am intrigued by the many ways in which this behavior is a good investment for the establishment.

First, it costs nothing. And it generates huge customer loyalty. But beyond being good business, it's also good security. It's good self-defense.

In addition to all the cameras, safes, and vaults, this bank has a human component to their security set up that they may not even be aware of. By creating a culture where their tellers greet customers as soon as they step into the lobby, they are creating a culture of awareness. By enthusiastically announcing a customer's name, the message is being broadcast to everyone in the vicinity that this person is known, familiar.

The strangers get greeted warmly also, but the absence of the name causes the other employees to glance up. If anything untoward were to happen, probably the cameras would catch it all. But in this environment, the human witnesses are always kept sharp by their authentic hospitality.

Is it a cynicism on my part to see an ulterior motive for genuine friendliness? Not at all. Self defense is a subtle and intricate art, but it is easy to show that open, sincere good will is the best practice of shodo o seizu there is. It stimulates awareness, which is the first requisite for any successful defense strategy. It establishes a connection which may allow for the direction of energy. It frequently goes a long way to forestalling hostility. And it helps with the cultivation of allies should things get out of hand.

Now, I seriously doubt the bank managers and employees have thought all this through. But I'd be even more impressed if they had. I suspect rather, that for whatever reason, they've created an environment that is welcoming and friendly, and it's as simple as that. Maybe they've discovered that they themselves are happier working in such a place. That's not bad self defense either.

If I were the bank-robbing type, I can tell you that I wouldn't go near this place. It's a pretty stupid idea to rob one's own bank anyway, but this one has something going for it that many others don't. I would never suggest that such a place is impervious, but I can tell you the vibe is different there. There's goodness in the atmosphere.

Doing what I do for a living, it's a basic reflex to scan a place when I go in, to sniff it out, as it were. Convenience stores feel different from coffee shops, and each one is different from the other. Some places are more likely targets than others, and it's a good thing to be sensitive to this. I like the way this bank lobby feels.

So beyond the ego strokes that I get from some big city bank employee knowing me by name, there is a deeper chord being struck. These people are radiating a sense of safety and security. Nothing like that can ever keep all forms of evil at bay, but it's still a really good thing. An important thing. An intelligent and wise thing.

It's a very simple and easy thing, and it costs nothing. It's a thing I wish that politicians and statesmen and generals and security forces everywhere understood and practiced. The returns would be enormous.

It's possibly the best imaginable investment there is.

You can bank on it.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Center
Austin, TX, USA


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