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Occasionally we (members of NWIM) wonder why more people don’t become actively involved in Mensa activities after making the effort to join.  There are probably as many reasons as there are members not participating but a common theme is “no time.”  I recently learned of a book, “The Great Good Place,” by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, that explains why people should make time to participate.  The book attributes many of the negative changes in the American “personality” to the increasing tendency of individuals to isolate themselves and to the loss of places where we can socialize with people other than our immediate family or coworkers. 

Oldenburg says our lives have three “places”: the home, the workplace, and “third places.”  Third places used to be abundant; the neighborhood barber or beauty shop, the corner pub, fraternal societies, town squares, etc.  As described in a review of “The Great Good Place” by Jerry Kloby: “[t]hird places are the core settings for informal public life, they are places where people can meet old friends, make new acquaintances, discuss the important issues of the day, and temporarily throw off the weight of the world . . . .”  Oldenburg believes that this “informal” public life serves important psychological, social, and political functions.  Since the 1950’s and 60’s, however, third places are disappearing or being remade into forms that are not conducive to the informal socialization Oldenburg believes is a crucial component of the American culture. 

The loss of “third places,” Oldenburg asserts, has contributed to the decline in grass-roots political activities, increased distrust of others, and caused a loss of “social capital” from loss of community.  In addition, Oldenburg concurs with other sociologists such as Margaret Mead that the loss of “third places” increases the stress on intimate relationships.  According to Oldenburg, “In the absence of an informal public life, people’s expectations toward work and family life have escalated beyond the capacity of those institutions to meet them.”  Without the social network provided by third places, people become isolated, resulting in people who are less healthy and more unhappy.  Oldenburg believes recreating third places would have many benefits, including increased responsibility of individuals in watching out for their neighborhood or community. 

Why am I writing about this in the NWIM bulletin?  Mensa activities offer many things that come from third places.  The following is a partial list of the positive functions Oldenburg sees in third places that exist through Mensa activities.  Third places are: (1) a place for people to get to know each other; (2) a neutral ground providing ease of association; (3) a sorting area where one can meet people with similar interests; (4) a place that may lead to other forms of association between individuals; (5) a place for youths and adults to socialize together; (6) a place for exchanging information; and (7) a forum for informal political discussion.  Those of us who belong to Mensa don’t have to wait for new “third places.”  Active participation in Mensa activities can provide each of us with the “Great Good Place” we all need but may not otherwise have.

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