Third Place Policy

The counseling profession emphasizes the importance of understanding the individual. I always was open to other points of view though to open up my horizons. I wanted subject matter that would complement this “individual” perspective but that did not stray too far from the study of people. After speaking to my undergraduate adviser, I took up a sociology minor. Sociology focused on the study of community and society. It was the perfect partner in crime to psychology.

The fact of the matter is that, yes, focusing on yourself is essential, but we rely heavily on others. Since the dawn of man, humans thrived due to our dependent nature and teamwork mentality. During a time when saber toothed cats and taking down mammoths for dinner was reality, mankind would have been picked off with ease and never survived.

In today’s day and age, we may not be hunting mammoths for survival. However, people depend on each other more now than ever. Take a trip to the grocery store for instance to pick up some fresh produce. A farmer harvested that veggie and loaded it into the back of a truck. A driver brought it across the country to a factory. A factor worker packaged it up and put it onto the back of another truck. Another truck driver brought it to your local department store. A store associate unloaded that truck and stocked that veggie on the shelves. You pick up the veggie and likely have a cashier helping you pay for said item. It took all of those people to help you purchase that veggie going on your dinner plate later.

Having a sense of community fulfills an innate need for us. This becomes harder and harder given the privatization of lifestyle, ownership, and consumption. Everything is personal and private to the point where an individual could legitimately never leave their house ever again. Why go to the gym? Buy a treadmill. Going to work? Do work remotely from home today. Grocery shopping? Order online and have your groceries delivered. The need to socialize and stay connected? Social media.

It is not the same though. There are some things that technology cannot replace, and one of those is face-to-face communication. It offers an unmatched connection and various benefits. This is why I am a huge fan of “third places.” Most individuals became familiar with this term after the Starbucks controversy that took place earlier this year when African Americans were asked to leave an establishment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The police were called, and it caused quite the uproar regarding race relations. Starbucks ultimately apologized for how these individuals were treated and closed all of their stores to train their staff. They also reinforced what they deemed their “third place policy.”

The term “third place” was popularized by an urban sociologist named Ray Oldenburg. Third places are neutral ground in communities where individuals gather and interact. This is opposed to our private home (“first place”) or places where we go with a purpose like school or work (“second place”) (Oldenburg). Third places offer voluntary, anticipated gatherings for community folk apart from the realms of first and second places.

Third places offer numerous benefits, especially given the direction society is heading. These areas are void of social status by providing equity for those who enter. Usually, there are regulars who frequent third places. They know each other by name and welcome new individuals in gradually and with ease. They provide support for one another. The regulars in these locations get to know each other and will share intimate details of their life after some time. They will share updates with one another. Third places also provide a setting for public association away from home and work. It gives us a break from the rigors of daily life.

To say the least, Starbucks built an entire corporation based on this concept, which they pride themselves on. Other examples of third places include parks, main streets, cafes, pubs, and post offices to name a few. Over the years, I made several different locations my “third places.” As a teenager, it was a local coffee shop along with the boardwalk near my high school. In college, it was my campus’s student center. After college, it was a local pool hall. Presently, it is my local Starbucks where I sit writing this post.

Sometimes to take care of yourself first, it helps to have a place to call third.

-The Caring Counselor

Resources

Ray Oldenburg. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.pps.org/article/roldenburg

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