As a little kid, I had a piggybank.  When my grandmother came visiting, my sister and I were each given a yellow 2 crown – the equivalent of about a quarter – and we put them in our piggy banks.  We had other sources of funding.  At one point we each had an allowance of 1 crown a week.  The problem with putting the money in the piggy bank was that it felt wrong to try to get them out again.  So, although we could have bought popsicles, usually we didn’t.

At that innocent point in my life, the real treat was not the value of the money but to look at the machine in the bank that sorted coins.  You may have seen these big and noisy machines at your bank?  At one end there was a funnel and then a big glassed encased mechanical monster where the coins rolled down and sorted themselves by size: pennies, dimes, nickels, quarters, and, occasionally but rarely, a dollar coin.

There was a tray for “Other” – the contents of piggybanks, cash registers, and vending machines that didn’t fit into the allotted slots.  As young me watched this display of mechanical ingenuity do its thing, I also saw people were sometimes surprised if some of their wealth turned out to be trouser buttons or bottle caps.

By now I am sure you have a picture of this machine in your mind – so let us put it even further into your mind – because this is somewhat like how our minds work: we are funneled “stuff” at one end, and then we try to sort it, what fits where, this looks like a quarter, and this is rubbish to be rejected.

Recently, John Dunia published a piece, and in the comment trail on LinkedIn, this beautiful sentence appeared: “I believe you and I want the same, or at least very close to the same, results. It’s just our experiences have led us to different conclusions on how to get there.”

As I had slept on this interaction between John Dunia and Mark O’Brien, I woke up with the coin-sorting machine in my head.  What is your sorting-machine going to do with my old 2-crown coin? (Or for that matter, my new 5, 10, and 20-crown pieces? Or a Euro piece?  Or a Pound?)

Yes, in the bank, it will likely go in the “Other” tray, along with trouser buttons and bottle caps to be rejected.

Now, I did write “likely”, because sometimes a coin in my currency has the same size as one in your currency.  Both literally and figuratively, something may roll in that fits nicely into one of the slots.

Speaking literally, the bank accepts the risk that one of your quarters is really an out-of-circulation worthless 5-øre which was counted in the quarters tube.  Teenagers find ways to use old or foreign or fake currency in vending machines and can score the difference in value, as it takes appr 40 5-øre to make a quarter.  And, more legit, a modern 10-crown piece may also end up in the quarter tube although the value is closer to $1.50.

Figuratively, a coin match could be that we use the same words, but because “our experiences have led us to different conclusions” we may understand something different from the same word, or the contexts these words elicit from our memory are so different that we speak past one another.

And what about the “Other” tray – the content to be disdainfully discarded?

Somebody brought it into your bank, sincerely believing it has value, and they are honoring you with their business.  From what is sorted, you may charge 5 or 10% for sorting it.  And perhaps that “Other” that you didn’t even want to engage with is gold bullion.  One Canadian Mable Leaf sells for $2000+.

I am not saying that you must engage with all “foreign currency”.  Some “coins” – foreign or domestic – are not even worth the value of the metal.  But if we can stay curious about what otherwise would end up in the “Other” tray, we occasionally can find gold.

And when we don’t, through our curiosity we might still find each other.


Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who counsels international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, where she worked in organizational development primarily in the finance industry, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of research into value systems and communication patterns. She shares this knowledge and experience through speaking and writing and on her website Many of these “learning experiences” along with a context to put them in can be found in her book Building Bridges Across Cultural Differences, Why Don’t I Follow Your Norms?. On the side, she leads a multinational and multigenerational communication training group.

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  1. Charlotte, well done! I always appreciate hearing stories of your youth. This one reminded me of my weekly march to the bank to buy rolls of coins in search of the rare penny, nickel, or dime. My older brother and I had blue books stuffed with coins whose value exceeded their original stamp. Maybe only a few of them had been minted, or maybe their date was askew. Where are those books today…

    The other word besides “curiosity” might be “humility,” in that coins other than mine might be worth something. Humility first requires us to accept that there are other coins, regardless of how they look and feel, and that they might possess value. Humility requires tolerance – a willingness to hear how others use their specific coins to satisfy their needs and desires. Humility requires patience – a willingness to count change other than our own rather than dismiss it out of hand.

    • I agree, Jeff, humility to recognize that we could be wrong or not possess knowledge of the full picture is a good trait. But I rarely find that suggesting somebody else should be more humble lands well. Neither does bragging about how humble I am – that sort of runs counter to the concept, doesn’t it? (LOL, I know “sort of” is not your favorite phrase and wonder if saying something tongue-in-cheek justifies using the term?)

      Curious, however, has a more upbeat connotation. But I understand how a curious person like you poke around to see what more may be hiding in the emotional stew.