Updated: Jul 7, 2021
The Courage to be Disliked shows you how to unlock the power within yourself to become your best and truest self, change your future and find lasting happiness. Using the theories of Alfred Adler, one of the three giants of 19th century psychology alongside Freud and Jung, the authors explain how we are all free to determine our own future free of the shackles of past experiences, doubts and the expectations of others. It's a philosophy that's profoundly liberating, allowing us to develop the courage to change, and to ignore the limitations that we and those around us can place on ourselves.
The result is a book that is both highly accessible and profound in its importance. Millions have already read and benefited from its wisdom. Now that The Courage to be Disliked has been published for the first time in English, so can you.
If everyone subscribed to the philosophy powering today’s pick, African and Asian cultures would die by the wayside.
Trying to write my thoughts about this book is probably one of the hardest tasks I’ve had to do all year … all four days of it. That’s because there is so much to unpack from this that I feel stuck even trying.
But here goes:
You know how in time travel movies, the protagonist believes time is linear and unidirectional - it only ever goes forward in a straight line - until a time traveler comes along and shows her it’s a little bit cyclical, a little wibbly-wobbly and a whole lot of Jeremy Beremy?
The Courage to be Disliked is our time traveller.
Only, it doesn’t deal with time but with effect. An average person might go through life thinking that it is about cause and effect; we are shaped by the things that happened in our past, the society we grew up in, the circumstances of our birth, etc. The general consensus is that those things shape us, direct us and sometimes limit us.
The psychology behind the philosophy expounded upon in this book says, “Nah!” Rather than cause and effect, our lives are determined by will and effect. For example, a shut in might think his overwhelming fear of the outside world is what stops him from venturing out of his house. Adlerian psychology says his goal is to not leave the house for whatever reason or the other, so he manufactures this fear (because this theory believes emotions are tools and can be completely controlled) to help him achieve his goal of staying inside the house.
If you haven’t read this book, you’re probably feeling a little lost right now so let me give you some context.
The Courage to be Disliked is a bestseller in Asia and has sold over 3.5 million copies – people buy into this book. Hard.
It is structured as a series of conversations between a philosopher (that would be the author) and a young man (that would be the reader) that takes place over the course of five nights and ranges over love, work, insecurity, parenting and a good number of issues that make up this thing we call life.
Over this period, the philosopher uses the theories of Alfred Adler (19th century German psychologist) to explain how to unlock your best and truest self, have control over your past (at least the effects of it), present and future, in order to achieve lasting happiness.
I remain unconvinced.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with quite a lot of the tenets of Adler’s theory – they are principles I have learnt from the bible; we are responsible for our actions and can’t blame others, our minds control our bodies (although Adler says our minds and bodies are one, but potato, potahto) and we can make our break our future by the way we think.
But even as I found myself agreeing with some thoughts and learning from others, I couldn’t shake a growing sense of distance from it all, which, ironically, the philosopher recommends for problems.
It was all so … clinical. Where was the magic of being?
So much agency is given to self and very little is spared for empathy and the other. It made me feel quite like the philosopher was giving a tutorial on How to be a Good Robot. Disclaimer: he categorically denied any robotic undertones to the theory. He said, she said: you come to your own conclusion.
There is so much I wanted to say about this (parents, check out the Adlerian theory on you in Do Not Rebuke or Praise) but there is just not enough time or space. However, I can’t leave without this last takeaway:
The courage to be happy is also the courage to be disliked. Because you have the courage to enact your own choices, free from what other people think.
Also, parents stop being so manipulative.
In the battle between heart and mind, my heart won. This one's not for me. But if you, like three million other people, are seeking clarity in thoughts and some direction in navigating this thing called life, then this one might be for you.