You Call Yourself A Third Place?

Beck’s final bit in his series Alone, Suburban and Sorted is Part 9: Becoming A Third Place.  He recaps and then makes suggestions — mainly for the church — to help reduce American insularity (“issues of welcome, inclusion, conversation and hospitality”), the experience of living in an echo chamber, of not associating with anyone who thinks differently from us or who has a different view — or not being aware that we do, because those people who disagree don’t speak up about it when in our company.  (He gives an example of the latter case.)

Beck notes that if we don’t “interact with difference”on a daily basis, then “we increasingly deal with abstractions and stereotypes: The poor, the gays, Muslims, Democrats, Republicans. We argue with a faceless demonic Other.”

His suggestions are:

For the church: create third places within the church; and, the church can run a third place, e.g., a restaurant or coffee shop  (q.v. Scott Williams’ Club 365)

For anyone: we can become the third place by inviting people over to hang out, by moving to a diverse neighbourhood, by becoming a regular at our town’s third places …

He ends with this:

“I, personally, have tried to become a person where Republicans and Democrats, gay and straight, atheist and believer, saint and sinner can speak freely in my presence. It’s not that I don’t have any strong opinions. I do. It’s just that I need to know who you are, and you need to know who I am, if we are to begin the process of loving each other, living with each other and eventually disagreeing with each other. I might yell at you. And you might yell at me. But only when we are truly and deeply in love with each other. I don’t yell at strangers. Yelling is a family activity. The regulars at the third place can yell at each other. They don’t yell a the stranger who just walked in. Yelling is too intimate, too loving an act, for people who don’t know each other.”

I support the gist of this idea, that entering into difficult conversation can often lead to greater knowledge of ‘the other’ and disclosure of the self, which can lead to love (by which I don’t mean tolerance).

It can also lead to hate, as should be obvious from the percentage of violence, including murders, done within families and among people who do know each other. otoh, maybe much violence — domestic and otherwise — occurs because we just don’t have the ‘hospitality skills’ (or hospitality willingness) that Beck talks about, i.e., we don’t know how to interact civilly with ‘the other,’ whether the other is a total stranger, or a spouse or child who seems very ‘other’ at the moment. (From a recent article about why men abuse their wives: “‘I grew up in an abusive household, so I didn’t know how to verbally communicate with my wife without putting her down. I didn’t know how to verbally disagree with her and say, ‘We don’t see eye to eye,’ and be okay with that.'”)

In any case, without knowing someone, we can’t love them, we can only love the idea of them (which isn’t love at all), so if the fact that knowledge doesn’t always lead to love or to loving actions stops us from engaging, how will we ever love?

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