I often talk about being inclusionist, bringing people from various walks of life together to inspire and challenge everyone to do better. Here‘s an article by Fast Company’s Kevin Purdy about the need for that gathering place, the third place (first is home, second is work), to be real and not virtual. A quote follows below.
Left to our base instincts, we’d all probably spend that scheduled time, like most of our time, in front of a screen. But by forcing ourselves to meet up and talk, even if there’s no particular label or mission statement to it, we get vital exposure to the kinds of benefits that salespeople, network-savvy executives, and other people we usually try to avoid are seeking out. I’ve picked up paying work, traded contacts, sparked story ideas, and solved tech problems at those get-togethers. And I get much-needed practice at hearing others out, arguing my beliefs, and plain old face-to-face socializing.
This is why the cafe or other physical hangout spot is so necessary. It’s the spin dryer of our social laundry, the rainforest/lung apparatus of society, the synapse of our collective mind. It forces nuanced communication across boundaries and barriers whether we like it or not. Arguing helps us frame and understand our own ideas better, decision-making is improved, and unpredictable exposure to new ideas can occur without unrealistic expectations or social constrictions. The subtle capacities of intonation, body language and facial expression come to the fore. And we learn to communicate better, which always helps.
Alas, it could only be virtual given that it was with my father on the other side of the world, but a screen-sharing video chat today in which my father noticed yesterday’s buckwheat digression, ended up reminding me that my ancestors used to toil in the Buckwheat Capital of the World, Cohocton, NY.
There’s no need to feel guilty about “time out” for a cup o’ joe at the counter, even with non-business acquaintances you only see there and nowhere else. It’s not really time out. Like spacing out, it’s a crucial third space to let other mental processes that normally get supressed take over. We all know how important it is for kids’ development to socialize, so why not continue tuning our mental machinery and thinking as adults?
Actually, though my own job as an English teacher does involve impromptu face-to-face communication as well as plentiful non-work-related banter with my co-workers and students outside of class, I just realized I don’t really have an actual third place of my own. Then again, maybe that’s why I like cafes so much. But I’m more of a people watcher there. Note to self: Get out more.
In fairness, though, going to places like that is for me as a foreigner in Japan often complicated by the fact that I often can’t go to a place and just blend in, “just be there,” especially a place I go to for the first time. I’d like to be treated as a regular customer, but people feel they have to do something special or ask questions that I’ve answered too, too many times. It’s always the exact same conversation, which I’m stupefyingly sick of, and which is actually related to my job, which I’m ostensibly trying to forget in all my third-place earnestness. If their being so chatty with a first-time Japanese customer would be considered abnormal or too familiar or an imposition, then why, beyond showing a modicum of curiosity, isn’t the same thing an imposition on me, if “people are people?” I think religious proselytizors are more forward with me than other Japanese as well – one accosted me out of the blue at a McDonald’s last month. Anyway, my search for a local third place where there are also no ties to my work or students (it can be complicated, in FaceBookSpeak, if not always personally so, at some local watering holes), continues.
Cover Neutral Ground
At the barber or in a cafe (a thought – even on the road? We do “communicate” with our driving. It’s not subtle, but it’s certainly real and visceral. Come to think of it, walking in crowds is similar), you’re in the alveoli of a healthy society, the no man’s land (sorry, “person’s” doesn’t sound right) between open air and healthy bloodstream, effecting crucial exchange with every sip and sigh. You blurt out, you overhear… You blot the ink of ideas on the desk of society and decide it looks like Jimmy Durante (wow – I just realized: Ink-a-Dink-a-Do!) or an old sneaker.
So gimme another cup. Have a seat. Nice sneaks. What’s new?