Review – The Courage to be Disliked

The Courage to be Disliked

The Courage to be Disliked, by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi

The Courage to be Disliked draws heavily on the theories of psychologist Alfred Adler, who was one of the three big names of twentieth century psychology, alongside Freud and Jung. The form of the book is one in which there are conversations between a philosopher and his pupil. These take place over a number of nights and use the conversational manner as a way to impart ideas, much like the Greek philosophers of old. The book itself does a good job of threading things together, and it also weaves in other notions and ideas that aid readers in their understanding.

Early on, the philosopher talks about the difference between aetiology and teleology. The first is the usual link between cause and effect. X happened in my past so I am Y now. Teleology turns things on their head and looks at the potential purpose of a given state or affliction. I am Y now because I don't want to face X. Or, more simply, I might want to get rid of my shyness so that I can talk to the pretty woman across the café, but the shyness might be there because it gives me an excuse not to talk to the pretty woman. I must admit that for some situations and circumstances, I can see how the teleological viewpoint makes sense, but for others it seems hard to find out what the purpose might really be. The philosopher explains the differences between feeling inferior (which can be a good thing if it creates a drive for growth) and an inferiority complex, a state in which a complicated group of emotions feeds into this inferiority, and it all starts to become an excuse for things being the way that they are. In this latter case, what Alfred Adler refers to as "apparent cause and effect" comes into play. For example, some people say that they can't easily get married because their parents got divorced when they were younger. While the aetiological view would see this as traumatic, and cause and effect playing out, the teleological "what is the purpose" type view, would basically call bullshit on that.

The sections about the desire for recognition, and on freedom, were probably the most interesting for me. They go into the idea of "the separation of tasks", how these can relate to a person's interpersonal relationships, and how all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. Basically, the separation of tasks comes down to working out who's life task a particular "thing" is. The example given is a child who needs to study. No matter what the parents do, it is ultimately the child that has to do the learning, the parents can't study for the child. So in this case, studying is the child's task. Learning to separate your tasks from other people's is key to finding a bit of freedom, and living a little more true to yourself. Relating this to "being liked," what other people think of you is their task, something that you can't do anything about. Sure, you can live in a way in which you might hope people will like you, as no-one really wants to be disliked, but living your life in the hope of recognition and being liked will only lead to living your life for others, and discarding a lot of your own tasks and goals. Only you can live your live, that's your task. Thus the title: "The Courage to be Disliked." Adler proposed that one is happier and freer if they live moment to moment, working on one's own task in life and not doing other peoples' tasks. It's a direct challenge to the idea that we are our pasts, our stories. Instead, we are our goals. A book to read and re-read.



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