These days we talk a lot about building more social infrastructure to ease disconnection. Though this is a good directive, it is incomplete. It is my belief that we don’t necessarily need more cafes and social clubs to feel less lonely. What we need are more spaces that can help us feel fundamentally okay and seen in our deep aloneness. It is only from authentic individuation, can we begin to feel a true sense of non-separateness with one another and solve our sense of dis-ease at its root.

We are all fundamentally alone and inter-connected on this journey. Following the telos of our unique unfolding purpose is ultimately our own cross to bear, but is enriched amidst a social fabric. Meeting fellow travelers along the way to dialogue, celebrate, meaning-making, and mirror to us that which we already are, makes the journey all the more nimble and rich. As we come deeply into our truths from a base of deep security, we can begin to celebrate others for who they authentically are vs. seeing them as resources to help fill our void.

However, the majority of our social spaces tend to collapse our identities and disregard our unique purpose in exchange for safety and connection with the herd. We seek connection with others, at the expense of connection to ourselves, in all of our fiery uniqueness and unfolding multitudes. Unconsciously, joining these kinds of social spaces serve to reinforce our sense of separateness.

I believe we need more community spaces where plurality is not only the common denominator, but sense-making our unique paths, alongside others, is the predominant activity.

If first place is home, second place is work, third places are public spaces like parks, cafes, bars, etc., then a fourth place is:

Fourth Place (n)

a physical space that facilitates meaning-making through intentional programming and pluralistic discussion, where individuals explore questions of ultimate concern without seeking conclusive answers. It honors the authenticity and uniqueness of each person's path while fostering deeper bonds through consistent encounters in a supportive holding environment.

  1. A place where the primary activity is meaning-making - the continuous process of interpreting, understanding, and making sense of life's complex patterns through the lens of evolving personal assumptions and values.
  2. Intentional programming - the biggest difference between a 3rd space and a 4th place is that there is an intention to commune in pluralistic discussion. Often times there is programming and an individual who orchestrates prompts within a container.
  3. Exploring questions of ultimate concern - who am I? how did I get here? why am I here? what is good, beauty, and truth? what is meaningful? what is my relationship to self, community, and the world? the nature of questions asked in a fourth place ultimately all lead to these more fundamental inquiries.
  4. Being in the questions vs. reaching conclusive answers - in these containers, one leaves with more questions than answers. The goal is not to reach an answer or convert others to your point of view, but to grapple and explore the emergence of whatever arises together. Not to define the map, but to enlarge it.
  5. Honors the authenticity and uniqueness of each individuals path - who we are is both emergent and primordially unchanging. It rests below our past and current narratives that are shaped by memetic forces, trauma, and societal conditioning. The journey back to self-trust and authenticity is one we can only take on our own. Fourth places feature a culture that deeply honors this as there is no change agenda amongst its participants. We are here to witness, challenge, and mirror with the understanding that it can be taken or left.
  6. A bridging space that results in deeper bonds - Bridging spaces bring diverse people together to co-inhabit space. Bonding spaces aid similar individuals to meet and reinforce ties. A fourth place doesn’t see these as mutually exclusive. In fact, bonding is enhanced through the differences that bridging brings.
  7. Not a cult, but a holding environment - cults, in their broadest definition, seek to give people meaning and identity. Fourth Places are places where identity and world views are questioned and one’s sense of meaning is self-constructed from first principles. They are a container / canvas / holding environment by which people can feel supported and seen in their unique process of being and becoming.
  8. Consistency of encounter - any meet-up or internet salon can host a one-off meaning-making event. People get deep together and then splinter off into their own lives, with little likelihood of re-encounter. Fourth places create the conditions by which people see one another consistently. This creates the kind of friendships Aristotle extolls as its highest form: a “virtuous friendship” - a communion between souls exploring and understanding their place in the universe in tandem.
  9. Must be a physical place - though digital or async encounter can be an aspect, being physically together is paramount. Meaning-making is not only the exchange of ideas via the mind, but also physical and subtle energy from the heart and gut. The latter of which is diluted in virtual settings.

The concept of a “fourth place” isn’t necessarily new. We have grappled with “questions of ultimate concern” in community for millennia. The archetypal “Church” and “Town Squares” have been places rife with dialectic discourse, spiritual exchange, and scholastic discussion. Throughout history it has shown up in the spirit of Athenian Agoras, Roman Stoas, Indian “Sabhas”, French Salons, American Juntos, and Viennese Coffee Houses. Today we are seeing wafts of its interpretations in spaces like liberal arts universities, The Commons, Socratica, Manny’s, Reading Rhythms, pop-up cities, internet salons, & behind many closed doors housing private discussions.

What I hope to understand is how fourth places will emerge in our current era from behind closed doors, and into ever more public and physical spheres. Their re-design derived from first principles to accommodate the meaning-making needs of the modern person.

In a country that is only becoming more polarized, secularized, and ideologically rigid - we need civic institutions that can honor the intelligence of our pluralistic individuation, without sacrificing the wisdom and role of community in that process. It is only through this synthesis that true connection can engender.

If this resonates with you..

I’m looking to gather a community of “fourth place” builders or people generally interested in this topic for consistent salons. If you’re interested please fill out this form