Monday 12 March 2018

Book Review – The Courage to be Disliked

Book Review – The Courage to be Disliked - How to free yourself, change your life and achieve real happiness

Review by Casey Douglass

The Courage to be Disliked

I must admit that the title of The Courage to be Disliked certainly jumped out at me as I was browsing in my local Waterstones. Nestled amongst all the books purporting to tell me how to get people to like me, was one seemingly turning the issue on its head. That’s not to say that it’s a manual for how to be an effective internet troll or professional gobshite, it’s a book that looks at how chasing certain things, such as being liked, takes away our freedom.

The Courage to be Disliked draws heavily on the theories of psychologist Alfred Adler, 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. I’ve selected a few things that jumped out at me and written some thoughts about them below. The book itself does a good job of threading things together and going into the pros and cons of certain viewpoints with a bit more finesse than I can, and it also weaves in other notions and ideas that aid the reader 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 cafe, 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.

Another useful topic is of how feeling that you have something to contribute to the community (and community can be a vast thing in Adler’s terms) is what can cause you to feel happiness. The issue of life as a journey vs life as a dance also appears in the final section, the power of living the “now” as best you can, and viewing life as a series of moments rather than a linear straight line.

The last section also touches on having the courage to be normal, which is something I hadn’t really read much about before. Soo many books are about being special, by way of your actions and achievements, but The Courage to be Disliked has no qualms about looking more closely at this drive. It asks “Why is it necessary to be special? Probably because one cannot accept one’s normal self.” It then goes on to say that when people fail at becoming specially good, they are quite likely to switch to being specially bad, and I’m sure we can all think of people who go for that kind of recognition. It also states that being normal doesn’t equate to being incapable, which is something a lot of the more bombastic self-help literature would do well to reflect on, in my opinion.

I enjoyed reading The Courage to be Disliked. Alfred Adler’s ideas are some that I’ve only fleetingly come across in the past, but this book reminded me that I would like to learn more about what he said. Some of the concepts are very intriguing, even if some don’t really ring true for me. This is a simple yet densely packed book, the kind of book that needs a couple of readings, with space in-between to digest things. On my first journey through it, I came away feeling largely happy with what I’d learned, and even the things I was familiar with, I heard about in a fresh way that brought about new insights for me. If you fancy reading something that avoids the furrows ploughed by the usual self-help fare, you might want to take a look at this book.

Book Title: The Courage to be Disliked
Authors: Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781760630492