In this video, JKP author Nick Luxmoore talks a bit about his approach to working with young people and his latest book, Young People and the Curse of Ordinariness, which describes ways of working supportively and imaginatively with young people so that they can enjoy life and succeed without losing sight of the fact that – like everyone else – they’re ordinary, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Nick Luxmoore is a school counsellor, trainer, teacher, youth worker and UKCP registered Psychodrama psychotherapist. He has over 30 years’ experience of work with young people and with the professionals who support them.
Interviewer: Nick, you’ve just published your fifth book, ‘Young People and the Curse of Ordinariness’. From your books you seem to really understand young people. Tell us about how you came to work with young people, and your approach to working with them.
Nick: I’ve worked with young people all my working life. I think it probably comes from having been to a certain kind of stiff upper lip school where there was no counselling and not a huge amount of support for young people going through any kind of difficulties. And I think I probably wanted to become the person who I never had when I was at school. So I’ve worked ever since university with young people. I think, in terms of my approach, probably the key thing is just about liking young people. It’s not about having tricksy, psycho stuff up your sleave, but actually liking…trying to understand that the way that young people are and the way they pretend to be are not necessarily the same things; that young people will defend themselves in all kinds of spectacular and silent ways – just like adults will, but they’ll often do it a bit more dramatically – but underneath those defenses is still just a person who gets hurt and sad and angry and lonely. And that’s really important to remember. And I think when young people feel liked, then they can forgive a lot and get on with their lives.
Interviewer: So what is the ‘curse of ordinariness’?
Nick: I think all people, all human beings worry constantly about: ‘Am I the same as other people, or am I different from other people?’ And that’s a key tension for young people. And if I’m a bit the same, and a bit different from other people – in other words, if I’m kind of ordinary – is that ok? Or is that really bad? Should I be trying to be something more exotic, more extraordinary? And will I get noticed if I’m just a bit like other people? And i think it feels like a curse because it’s a tension that we can never escape from. As we get older we usually find a better way of beginning to balance our sense of being the same and our sense of being different from other people. But we can’t ever escape from it. And I think for young people it feels like a curse, something that’s always nagging away, that they can never quite get away from.
Interviewer: What makes young people particularly susceptible to it?
Nick: Well, partly because we live in a celebrity culture, and they see people who are very wealthy or very successful. And often these people are held up to them as people who they should aspire to be like. But not all of us can be as wealthy or as talented in some particular sphere as that one particular person who happens to have reached the pinnacle of success. And so, for the rest of us, we have to come to terms with our own ordinariness. And actually what I’m arguing in the book is ordinariness is great. Actually, you can’t beat ordinariness. Ordinariness is what we have in common. When people are dying, it’s our ordinariness that draws us together and that comforts us. So I think young people are susceptible mainly because they’re young.
Interviewer: What is your goal in counselling young people around issues of ordinariness?
Nick: My goal in counselling young people around issues of ordinariness, I suppose, is to help them begin to feel that the way they are is fine. They’re not going to be as good as they always longed to be, but nor are they going to be as dreadful as they always feared they might be. And that how they are will be fine. That’s not to say that they won’t achieve massively, and won’t achieve all sorts of wonderful things in their lives, but that they don’t have to be striving for it to such an extent that they then start behaving strangely or self-destructively or being destructive at other people’s expense in order to get recognised, and in order to be different. So, beginning to temper for young people that sense of ‘Oh dear, perhaps I should be more than I actually am’.
I think for young people, one of the ways in which they disguise sometimes feeling small or feeling a bit useless or feeling a bit helpless is by becoming grandiose. So they’ll act like they’re much bigger, they’re much cleverer, they’re much more sophisticated, much more loud and proud and strong than they actually feel inside. Now if you say to a young person, ‘I bet you don’t really feel like that, do you? You’re probably feeling quite small underneath your attempte to appear big,’ they’ll just tell you where to go, and quite rightly so. But there are ways of offering them that suggestion: ‘Isn’t it difficult sometimes when we feel small.’ That would be a better way of offering young people the idea that smallness is normal, ordinariness is ok and that we don’t have to be…and we’re in it together. It’s about ‘we’, rather than ‘you, young person.’
Interviewer: What do you think we as a society should or can do to correct this mindset?
Nick: It is a societal thing. I think that If we could find a way of celebrating ordinariness… We hold all these people up as being wonderful and, as I was saying, as people to whom we should aspire. But if we could remember that there are other kinds of heroes in society – not just soldiers, for example, and not just footballers – that there are heroes who are nurses; there are heroes who are social workers; there are people getting up to go and do really difficult work every morning, dreading what it is that they have to do, but actually in a silent and very unspectacular way just heroically going about their business because they believe passionately in something, and they believe passionately, often, in supporting other people, in helping other people in their lives – they might be youth workers, they might be teachers… I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be a first year teacher and to not have things completely under control, and to wake up some mornings absolutely dreading it, dreading that particularly difficult class that I’ve got to teach today, and it’s going to spoil my whole day – but I’m still going to go and do it because, actually, I believe passionately in the long term…in what I’m trying to do and in supporting young people. There’s a kind of heroism in that. And if we could find a way of recognising and celebrating that for all the many people in society who do worthwhile things, rather than making people feel that somehow they should always be aspiring to be something more and bigger and better than they actually are, then we’d be doing well.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.