Benefiting From Prejudice

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - December 1995

Some people thrive in situations that turn many others into victims. During a recent lunch with a friend I was reminded that it isn't the situation that determines how well your life goes, it is how you react to what happens.

Norman Locke's wife and oldest son were busy with customers when I walked into their small coin store in downtown Portland, Oregon, a few minutes before noon. Norm was talking on the telephone in his office. Their store, the Columbia Coin Company, has a timeless quality. While I stood waiting for Norm I looked at the rows of coins on display in old glass cases. I wondered if any of the coins were the same ones I saw the first time I went into their store in 1970.

Hand-written on an old chalk board on the far wall I saw the day's "buy and sell" prices for gold and silver and the day's trading prices for bags of silver coins. The working tables behind the counter seemed to be a clutter of hundreds of old coin bags, small boxes, and containers, but Norm, Jan, and Jon knew exactly where and what every coin was.

A person walking in off the street would probably not guess from looking at their store that Norman Locke is one of the most respected coin dealers in the world. When the Canadian government minted silver coins for the 1973 Olympic Games, for example, Norm was asked by Canadian mint officials to become their exclusive United States West Coast distributor. There is no pretense in their store, no dazzle, no selling. Just a pleasant family that treats every customer with honesty and integrity.

It was raining hard, so we walked to a restaurant close by. After we ordered our lunches Norm told me he had just been appointed to the Oregon Arts Commission by the governor. He laughed about someone asking him how he was qualified to serve on the Arts Commission.

Norm told me about many of his accomplishments as an artist and stage set designer for plays when he was in high school and college. He grew silent for a moment. Then he said "a businessman asked me recently what I attribute my business success to. I told him 'prejudice'."

Norm explained to me "I applied for different jobs after I graduated from college; I applied for many jobs. Every place I went they said they wouldn't hire a Chinaman. I looked into real estate selling, but they told me no one would want to buy property from a Chinaman. Every place I applied I ran into prejudice.

"That is when I decided," he said, "to never work for anyone else. I decided I would create and solve my own problems."

He saw the curious look on my face and said, "Everyone creates their own problems through the choices they make. I decided I could deal better with problems I created by working for myself." He went on to tell me about many of his successes and how proud he is that his three children all went to the best colleges. Now almost 70, Norman Locke feels happy, satisfied, and pleased about his many accomplishments, his interesting business activities, his family, the many friends he has acquired through his business dealings, and his community activities. And he attributes this life he now enjoys so much as resulting from his being the target of prejudice.

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