The Courage to be Disliked

Freud. Jung. Aristotle. Frankl. If someone carved a second Mount Rushmore deducted to thinkers, they’d all be enshrined in limestone glory. Each provide integral guidance and class outlines for psychology professors in top tier institutions across the globe. Books with their names printed inside line many a library wall.

Alfred Adler? Have you studied his work?

Perhaps, I’m in the minority (comment freely below to highlight my own stupidity), but I had never heard of him before reading the Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi. This book is a crash course explaining Adler’s theories through a back and forth between student and teacher. Instead of focusing on past life experiences, a hallmark of his predecessors, Adler teaches to live in the moment.

We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining.” Heavy thinking.

We choose our own reality. Life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live. As social creatures, we choose to complain to our spouses and profess unhappiness to our parents. And, if we want to conversely become happy we can choose to change our lifestyle. We define our own experiences. We choose who we spend time with on three day weekends, where we want to live in this highly interconnected world, and our trade/career.


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Once upon a time, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I’d consider passages. Outline stories in the vast expansiveness of my mind. Eight long years later, I finished a parable of the Book of Job. Based on my own experiences with writers block and fear, I smiled when I read this passage:

I have a young friend who dreams of becoming a novelist, but he never seems to be able to complete his work. According to him, his job keeps him too busy, and he can never find enough time to write novels, and that’s why he can’t complete work and enter it for writing awards. But is that the real reason? No! It’s actually that he wants to leave the possibility of “I can do it if I try” open, by not committing to anything. He doesn’t want to expose his work to criticism, and he certainly doesn’t want to face the reality that he might produce an inferior piece of writing and face rejection. He wants to live inside that realm of possibilities, where he can say that he could do it if he only had the time, or that he could write if he just had the proper environment, and that he really does have the talent for it. In another five or ten years, he will probably start using other excuses like “I’m not young anymore” or “I’ve got a family to think about now.”

It’s Hard to Write a Magnum Opus

Putting yourself out there is hard enough without piling on the impossible burden of wanting someone to enjoy your magnum opus of a book. Still, this is hard. Doubt creeps. What happens if you work thousands of hours pouring your soul onto reams of paper and nobody cares? Do you cry if your jokes fall flat? Does your stomach turn receiving a tide of two star reviews? If the reader doesn’t frantically flip through the pages during the book’s climax, do you shred the pages and start over? Criticism is daunting. Self created destruction is the worst.

Yet, we choose through action. In life, some will consciously not follow Adler’s teachings. His belief in the separation of tasks, avoiding recognition, and pursuing horizontal relationships may feel counter productive or prove too restrictive. Or, we may take some of his viewpoints and blend with our own beliefs to create a new personal life philosophy. Who knows?

No matter, take the step. Reading the book moves life onward and, at least for some, happiness awaits. That, in itself, makes this worthy of a read.


Other Highlights and Notes (tasks, the power to be disliked, the world is a big place, and more):

Separation of Tasks

  • We need to think with the perspective of “Whose task is this?” and continually separate one’s own tasks from other people’s tasks.
  • Carrying out the separation of tasks is enough to change one’s interpersonal relationships dramatically.
  • There is a simple way to tell whose task it is. Think, Who ultimately is going to receive the result brought about by the choice that is made? When the child has made the choice of not studying, ultimately, the result of that decision—not being able to keep up in class or to get into the preferred school, for instance—does not have to be received by the parents. Clearly, it is the child who has to receive it. In other words, studying is the child’s task._No more helping my kid with his homework.
  • Intervening in other people’s tasks and taking on other people’s tasks turns one’s life into something heavy and full of hardship. If you are leading a life of worry and suffering— which stems from interpersonal relationships—learn the boundary of “From here on, that is not my task.” And discard other people’s tasks. That is the first step toward lightening the load and making life simpler.

Being Disliked Means Freedom

  • It’s that you are disliked by someone. It is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom, and a sign that you are living in accordance with your own principles. Unless one is unconcerned by other people’s judgments, has no fear of being disliked by other people, and pays the cost that one might never be recognized, one will never be able to follow through in one’s own way of living. That is to say, one will not be able to be free. What I am saying is, don’t be afraid of being disliked.
  • The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness.

Avoid Seeking Recognition

  • There is no need to be recognized by others. Actually, one must not seek recognition. This point cannot be overstated.
  • When one is tied to the desire for recognition, the interpersonal relationship cards will always stay in the hands of other people.
  • When receiving praise becomes one’s goal, one is choosing a way of living that is in line with another person’s system of values.

Power Struggles

  • And once the interpersonal relationship reaches the revenge stage, it is almost impossible for either party to find a solution. To prevent this from happening, when one is challenged to a power struggle, one must never allow oneself to be taken in. One more thing about power struggles. In every instance, no matter how much you might think you are right, try not to criticize the other party on that basis. This is an interpersonal relationship trap that many people fall into. The moment one is convinced that “I am right” in an interpersonal relationship, one has already stepped into a power struggle.

The World is a Big Place

  • People who hold the belief that they are the center of the world always end up losing their comrades before long.
  • Once you know how big the world is, you will see that all the hardship you went through in school was a storm in a teacup. The moment you leave the teacup, that raging storm will be gone, and a gentle breeze will greet you in its place.
  • When we run into difficulties in our interpersonal relations, or when we can no longer see a way out, what we should consider first and foremost is the principle that says, “Listen to the voice of the larger community.”
  • In the teachings of Judaism, one finds the following anecdote: “If there are ten people, one will be someone who criticizes you no matter what you do. This person will come to dislike you, and you will not learn to like him either. Then, there will be two others who accept everything about you and whom you accept too, and you will become close friends with them. The remaining seven people will be neither of these types.” Now, do you focus on the one person who dislikes you? Do you pay more attention to the two who love you? Or would you focus on the crowd, the other seven? A person who is lacking in harmony of life will see only the one person he dislikes and will make a judgment of the world from that.

Horizontal vs Vertical Relationships

  • First, do the separation of tasks. Then, while accepting each other’s differences, build equal horizontal relationships.
  • Do not be dependent on vertical relationships or be afraid of being disliked, and just make your way forward freely.

A Definition of Happiness (What do you value in life)

  • In a word, happiness is the feeling of contribution. That is the definition of happiness.

The Trevi Fountain

The headline picture of the fountain was taken in Rome, 2007. The leading statue is the God Oceanus, flanked by Abundance and Health.