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Challenging Our Set Ways of Thinking by Meeting Others in a “Third Place”

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Unknown-1 Life is full of rejection. You don’t get the job; your opinion at the staff meeting is voted down; your manuscript is left on the slush pile. In addition to these overt forms of rejection, life is full of people whose viewpoints and belief systems are different from our own. How we deal with rejection and differences of opinion will influence the many layers of our lives.

Recently to help me deal with rejection, a friend offered up this quote to me: “And whoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” Luke 10:11, King James Version

She shared the story of how Jesus shook dust off of his feet when others rejected him (his teachings)—and moved on. This can be a good thing. However, when I researched the quote myself, my interpretation of it changed. Just as non-believers may have rejected Jesus, he also rejected them (what is meant by shaking off the dust on your feet). It was implied that non-believers should be abandoned.

Unknown If I was to be like Jesus, should I too only hang out with “believers?” When we encounter someone who doesn’t necessarily agree with our point of view (a “non-believer”), should we just shake the dust off and move on? But this attitude can leave us in the shallow end of the pool, and only in the company of those who are in agreement with us. In this, we run the risk of “singing to the choir” over and over again.

I admit to shaking my head in bewilderment when hearing what others believe or don’t believe (climate change deniers, for example). If I were to just shake them off and move on to find more believers like myself, who and what does that ultimately serve? It seems to me there is a middle way: give up trying to convert others and instead be willing to hang out and hold conversation with those whose views are different from our own. Listen to one another’s stories. Allow for some mutual exchange and the potential to learn something from an opposing point of view, or to be influenced by what the other person has to say.

I’m not suggesting that we remain in an abusive relationship or a toxic environment that’s one-sided in that the other party is not willing to hold an open dialogue. I’m saying that we might practice listening to those who seem to rub us the wrong way with their views, to not shake them off like dust. We can start with someone close in (a colleague, a family member, or a neighbor). And if we must move on, I say, keep the dust on your feet.

These Days

whatever you have to say,
leave the roots on,

let them dangle
And the dirt
Just to make clear
where they come from

– Charles Olson, Collected Poems of Charles Olson

Research has shown us time and again that potent creative ideas result from meeting up with different points of view, perspectives and disciplines. This is typically referred to as “the third place”—a means whereby we generate creative thinking and the visioning of new possibilities. This concept is mostly used in the context of community-building and refers to the utilization of a third place that is outside of the work and home environments. When we travel to this third place, we leave the familiar behind.

The third place can challenge our patterned way of seeing or thinking and given this, the creative interaction that transpires here frequently gives birth to creative ideas. Many companies now use this concept of a third place to offer up a location where their workers can meet across disciplines and come up with creative solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.

For me, the third place can be a casual setting like a coffee shop or a public garden. Locate some third places where you can meet with others who are not like-minded; where conversation and an exchange of ideas and stories are welcomed. (I don’t, by the way, consider religious institutions or other places with strongly set rules and established processes to be suitable third places.) The place you select should be one in which it will be conducive to an open dialogue. It would be preferable for it to be in a natural setting, one in which natural light, sounds, and sights are present. Ideally entry will be free, or cost only a nominal fee. When we find our “third place,” we are more likely to also find a common ground. It is comprised not just of our own viewpoint, nor of the other party’s perspective. Instead, it is comprised of a convergence of sorts, that ignite conceptually to create an emerging dynamic, another solution or perspective. Or, at the very least, an exchange of divergent stories.

“Out beyond the place of right and wrong, there is field, I’ll meet you there.” —Rumi

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About Julie Tallard Johnson

Julie Tallard Johnson is a psychotherapist, creative writing consultant and concept manager for individuals and businesses. She has been studying the scientific basis of thought transformation, inspiration, and creativity for 35 years. She is the author of several books, her latest, The Zero Point Agreement: How To Be Who You Already Are is available now in paperback and Kindle. She is a writing instructor at the UW-Madison, Continuing Studies. She enjoys being a writer for Blogcritics and is in search of her next article. She lives in rural Wisconsin on 40 acres of restored prairie and woods.
  • GentleSpirit

    When you leave a place of confrontation or differences, the quote says, shake the DUST off your feet, not shake the people off. :) In agreement with what you are saying, I hear this quote saying to leave behind the “dust” raised by your encounter, that is, any resentment, frustration, hurt feelings, etc. Let that stuff go and move on. Do not try to force your opinion into those who do not listen. You are not here to convince and convert, but to speak to those who were interested in hearing your thoughts, whatever they do with them afterwards. So speak your truth and then dust yourself off of attachments and emotions, it says, before you move on to the next group.

    Nice interpretation of the third place, a term invented by the founder of Starbucks when he set out to create a place unlike any other (at the time) — a place where people of all generations and societal status can sit with each other and converse or read or work or play.

    The only thing I actually disagree with is the statement that life is full of rejection. Just don’t see that. I see eternal conversation, and perhaps a bit of dust here and there.

    • julie

      Thank you GS — no rejection here.