The Power of One Coin

What was the first magic trick you remember? If you’re like most people, it was probably a favorite uncle pulling a coin from your ear. Do you remember how you felt? For many people it is clearly a key experience – they remember it all their lives. Recently, I put “The Aerial Mint” back into my platform show – and was astonished at the reactions it got. When I went down into the audience and began pulling coins out of people’s ears, hair and clothing, it was as if someone had flipped a switch – the audience came alive. Parents tried to catch my eye so that their child could have this experience. Others asked (half jokingly, I suspect) whether they, too had “hidden assets.” It was easily the single most popular part of the show, and one of the things that the newspapers focused on in their reviews. This experience startled me and led me to think more deeply about this “simple trick,” its meaning – and its potential.

First, let’s look at a coin. It can be any coin, but I prefer the ones that people tell me look like “real money.” As “The Financial Wizard,” I do a great deal of magic with money, and audiences react differently to different types of coins. (At this point I’ll beg the indulgence of our international readers; I will of necessity be referring mostly to U.S. coins.) Most Americans (especially children) have never seen half dollars or silver dollars – of ANY type – yet there are some coins they automatically accept as “real” (read: genuine), and some that they are always suspect. For example, Eisenhower dollars are often suspected of being “trick coins,” while the much rarer “Walking Liberty” Silver Eagle bullion coins are, in my experience, always accepted without hesitation as “real money.” The ones with some depiction of the “goddess of Liberty” tend to be seen as real. (We can discuss this further another time.)

Money, after all, is an icon. It has no intrinsic value beyond what a given people agree it has. (Trust me on this; it can be proven even with coins.) It represents prosperity and fertility, stored and traded. When we work, we earn money – and what have we traded for our money? Why, life itself, the finite span of our time on Earth. In other words, money, in a very deep and meaningful way, represents life.

So what are we saying when we “find” a coin in a child’s ear? Well, in one sense, we could be saying, “I see life in you. You are special. You have value hidden in you that not everyone can see, but I see it. I see the potential for more than meets the eye. I see more good in you than you might see in yourself.”

What do most children grow up hearing? I suspect they hear a great deal of “You can’t do this,” or “You are too small/young/weak to do that.” Now, children need to have boundaries, and they certainly need rules to keep them safe until they know better, but it’s very easy to see how a constant barrage of “no” can easily lead a child to form a negative view of themselves and their own potential in the world. By pulling that coin out of their ear, we can give them a different message: “You are valuable.”

No wonder so many children have fond memories of this one experience! No wonder so many parents want us to do this for their child! Parents must be the disciplinarians, but the wizard’s job is different. After all, don’t we see what others do not? Aren’t we supposed to have vision beyond what is visible?

Now that you do magic, you may do the same simple trick yourself, especially for children. How do they react? Often, with a giggle or a squeal of delight. They GET IT. They understand.

Do we?

How often do we joke about the child not “washing behind your ears?” Why are we distracted, why so intent on destroying the meaning inherent in the act? How can we be more intentional about this message? How can we amplify it?

Let me leave you with a challenge. Get a supply of small silver coins, like “Walking Liberty” half dollars or silver half-crowns – something even a child knows is “real money.” “Junk” or “slick” Walking Liberty halves can be had for a couple of US dollars at this writing. (I have also used the new “golden” US dollar coin to great effect.)

The next time you are in a position to meet a six- or seven-year-old child for the first time, if the moment is appropriate, reach into your pocket with the left hand and back-palm one coin. While you are shaking the child’s hand with your right hand, say something on the order of “What’s this?” Reach behind the child’s ear with the apparently empty hand and pluck the coin out, saying, “You ARE full of surprises! There’s more here than meets the eye.” Now GIVE THEM THE COIN – to keep! I guarantee you; they’ll never willingly part with it. It will be a talisman of the time someone looked at them and saw something special.

Such is the power of one coin.

Eric Henning is a director of a registered investment advisory firm, where he helps make people’s dreams come true.

Originally published in Behind the Smoke and Mirrors

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