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  • Writer's pictureKelly Hughes

Clinical Psychologist Robert Wicks Shows How to Heal a Toxic World of Narcissism by Being Ordinary

The healthiest and most countercultural response to a world mesmerized by narcissism, spin, and exhibitionism is to be ordinary, says clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Wicks. His new book, The Tao of Ordinariness: Humility and Simplicity in a Narcissistic Age (Oxford University Press, $21.95 hardcover October 1, 2019) is an invitation to rediscover your simple, unvarnished self. This is not just a matter of self-improvement—it means the difference between living and existing. It may be the most important thing we can do for ourselves and the world, “given the number of persons suffering from egoism and narcissism who have taken on leadership roles, and are, whether we like it or not, models for our children,” says Dr Wicks.

As an adult, being yourself can be surprisingly difficult, especially in a culture that emphasizes image-making and influence over authenticity and humility. With the clarity, compassion, and good humor demonstrated in his previous works on resilience, self care, and maintaining a healthy perspective, Dr. Wicks is the ideal guide. He guides readers in cultivating a sense of intrigue and wonder about one’s own unique life, exploring it for what it might be, not what others say it must be.


Dr. Wicks defines ordinariness as “an attitude that allows persons to explore current realities and possibilities within themselves.”

It is a stance of looking inward to see how to live, what to embrace, and what to reject, marked by:

  • Comfort with oneself that allows one to be real and transparent;

  • Courage to confront unhelpful external influences;

  • Humility to honor one’s talent while viewing shortcomings in an honest, nonjudgmental way;

  • Willingness to model a lack of egoism in one’s relationships in ways that encourage personal freedom in others.

The promise of The Tao of Ordinariness is simple: walking through such psychological, philosophical, and spiritual portals as humility, simplicity, “alonetime,” courage, resilience, and mentorship will “increase clarity about one’s own uniqueness that can offer an encouraging space to others to appreciate their own sense of self,” Wicks says. Reclaiming one’s ordinary self means “nothing less than moving from daily skirmishes to protect or build up one’s image, to an approach that is more like a journey or pilgrimage in fullness and inner freedom.”

Psychology and classic wisdom literature have long valued being ordinary. Dr. Wicks draws from a broad array of wisdom figures and models of  ordinariness, including Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, poet Robert Lax, author and monk Thomas Merton, Buddhist psychologist Jack Kornfield and psychiatrist Mark Epstein, spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, Jewish scholar and ethicist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Nobel Peace Prize winners, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

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