The Courage To Be Disliked

By: Fumitake Koga & Ichiro Kishim - Read: Feb 4, 2023 - Rating: 5/10

A highly readable philosophy book about the beliefs and psychology of Alfred Adler, a lesser known rival and equal to Freud and Jung. Told in the format of a young skeptical student debating with a wise old philosopher in Japan, which was a very creative and digestable way to teach philosophy.

The philosophy has some novel ideas, but it plays too much in extremes (like saying that "all problems are interpersonal relationship problems" or "true freedom is the ability to be disliked", which both offer nuggets of wisdom, but lack nuance).

The student-teacher dialogue could also use improvement. The student should have been directing his questions at debunking the teacher's arguments, but instead he just rejects every statement the teacher says. Most of the ideas are covered better in other books.

My Notes

There are a number of useful nuggets of wisdom in the book, but they're often taken to the extreme which makes it harder to appreciate them.

Here are some of the ideas I found most valuable:

We can frame all beliefs and reflections about the relationship between the past and the present with a teleological lens, or etiological lens. Teleology implies causation (I am the way I am because of what happened in the past). Etiology implies purpose (I am doing what I'm doing because of a goal I have created for myself).

The philosopher argues that we should look at our past through an etiological lens, which shows us that the present need not be influenced by the past, and that trauma doesn't exist. While this is a productive way to frame things (for the purpose of moving forward and focusing on the present), the idea that all actions are caused by hidden goals is a bit of a stretch (and denies the fact that emotions and irrationality exist).

True freedom is the ability to be disliked. This is certaintly an important factor in achieving true freedom, since a lot of restriction comes from the fear of judgement or rejection by other people. But of course, there are several dimensions of freedom that don't fit into this definition, like financial freedom (at least at a baseline level of survival), time freedom, location freedom, etc. that are relevant and unrelated to being disliked.

All problems are interpersonal relationship problems. Again, an overstatement of a statement with wisdom. The nugget of wisdom is that many more problems really have interpersonal relationships at their root then we typically perceive. But again, there are many problems that truly don't have interpersonal relationships at their root (ex: being chased by a bear).

Separate your tasks from the tasks of others. This is another phrasing of the stoic virtue - understand what you can and cannot control. Accept the things you cannot control, and don't try to control them. Applying this to relationships - don't concern yourself with what others think and feel about you.

Adler suggests that all happiness comes from the feeling that "I am of use to someone." This seems like a bit of an oversimplification/description of a narrow kind of happiness.

The philosopher discusses "the courage to be normal" - definitely a novel and interesting concept. Few people talk about this. The philosopher urges the student to accept normalcy, and not feel pressure to strive for greatness.

Life is a series of moments, focus on the present. True - but was communicated much better in "The Power of Now."