The Courage To Be Disliked
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
Recently, I wrote a post on 'Defining what matters' where I mentioned that freedom was what I valued the most. My dear Japanese friend Koki read this blog and told me he's still trying to figure out what freedom means to him. He also offered an interesting take that he'd come across in a book: The Courage To Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. Naturally, I was intrigued almost immediately.
The book itself is structured as a Socratic dialogue between a teacher and a student, based on the work of 19th century psychologist Alfred Adler. On Amazon, one hilarious review called it "Marie Kondo, but for your brain." You can find summaries here and here.
Overall, it seems The Courage To Be Disliked isn't merely what the title advertises. For instance, one of the big themes in the book is actually about the human reaction to past negative experiences or trauma. The writing is opposed to the Freudian notion that traumatic events—particularly those that happen at a young age—take deep root in our psyches and that we are doomed to spend our adult lives trying to overcome limiting beliefs from the past. Instead, the authors lean on Adler's work to make a case for why our past does not control us and how we determine our own lives based on the meaning we give to our experiences. This line of thinking runs the risk of minimizing the enduring impact of trauma but I still appreciate the general sentiment.
The underlying idea is this: Each person controls the narrative of their life and manifests the reality they choose. Nothing can change the facts of your existence but you decide how to view those facts. You decide whether you will view the facts as advantageous or disadvantageous. This makes sense to me. Without diminishing the struggle involved, it's why some people like Henry Fraser —a mouth artist paralyzed from the shoulders down—are able to reframe seemingly unbearable circumstances and lead productive lives. In my own life, I've seen how my framing of events impacts my choices, mood and actions.
With this basic premise in place, it makes sense why this book makes the point that being disliked by other people is proof that you're exercising your freedom and living in accordance with your own principles. In a world where so many of us are ruled by limiting beliefs brought on by our own past traumas or those of others, the hardest thing anyone can do is to live out the courage of their convictions. What is more: If you're actively doing that, you're bound to trigger the fears, doubts and insecurities of the people around you. Those who cannot escape their own limiting beliefs. Those whose agendas and expectations may only be fulfilled by you doing what you've always done. At those times, having the courage to be disliked can be incredibly freeing.
Don't get me wrong: I don't think that being disliked is something aspirational. We shouldn't go out of our way to be disliked by people just to get the assurance that we're walking in freedom. There's no honor in being a jerk just for the heck of it. Don't be that guy! I also don't think we should be frivolous or irresponsible in our pursuit of freedom, particularly if it jeopardizes the health or well-being of other people. I don't believe in freedom at the expense of ethics. As a person of faith, I also don't believe in freedom without regard for God. In that sense, we all have our own boundaries and perhaps, on some levels, that runs counter to the notion of 'freedom'. Yet, I'd argue that freedom doesn't necessarily demand big, controversial leaps - sometimes, it may be as simple as being in nature or dancing or engaging in your favorite hobby. Freedom doesn't have to be all or nothing - sometimes, it's a subtle mental shift.
Which brings me back to the book. If you're trying to walk the unbeaten path in good faith (i.e. with a pure intention) but experience resistance, friction and disapproval from others, then the courage to be disliked is as good a definition of freedom as any. Not only that, but for those who cannot bear the displeasure of others, it is a great starting point for a broader inquiry. Why are you so afraid of being disliked? What are you afraid of? Knowing this can keep you from over-extending yourself every time a new request comes in and it will help you to make authentic choices that are in line with your highest purpose.
What does freedom mean to you? And how does this particular definition resonate with you?