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Perspective: Finding your third place is a first place idea

Saturday night in a saloon, Craigville, Minnesota
Library of Congress
Saturday night in a saloon, Craigville, Minnesota

I just received an ad promoting a 5-Day Online Silent Meditation Retreat. While I’ve engaged in silent meditation, the thought of a 5-day online retreat conjures up images of how I probably look when I’m wrestling with writer’s block staring for hours at a blank screen.

We’ve all spent too much time alone with our computers the last couple of years. Living in our bubbles, we relied on technology to keep us connected to others. Borrowing terms from sociologist Ray Oldenberg, these others may belong in our “first places” and our “second places,” which are family and worksites, respectively. But we need “third places,” too. These are the informal gathering spaces that have long kept folks connected to communities in ways that technology hasn’t yet achieved.

“Third places” include spaces like coffee shops, fellowship halls, playgrounds, barber shops, and neighborhood pubs. They provide a sense of belonging and of being heard no matter who you are. Third places can be equalizers, too. Who doesn’t recall the Cheers theme song – not only does “everybody know your name,” but they’re also “always glad you came.”

While virtual hangouts are great and virtual meetings connect us with colleagues around the globe, there’s still something to be said for brick-and-mortar or fresh-air and green-space, engagement. With loneliness at epidemic proportions, finding welcoming and community-creating “third places” may be a balm for disconnection and isolation. Communities can’t build themselves and we all need a place to go where we’re not just a user id, but also a name.

That being said, I’m Suzanne Degges-White, and that’s my perspective

Chair and Professor - NIU counseling and higher education