The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi & Fumitake Koga

Summarized by Trevor McKendrick
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The Book in Two Sentences

A Japanese author uses Adlerian psychology to explain how you can be happy immediately today. One of my favorite books of all time.

Book Notes

“No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the so-called trauma—but instead we make out of them whatever suits our purposes. We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining.”

Focus on the point Adler is making here when he refers to the self being determined not by our experiences themselves, but by the meaning we give them. He is not saying that the experience of a horrible calamity or abuse during childhood or other such incidents have no influence on forming a personality; their influences are strong. But the important thing is that nothing is actually determined by those influences. We determine our own lives according to the meaning we give to those past experiences.

Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.

Yes. I have a young friend who dreams of becoming a novelist, but he never seems to be able to complete his work. According to him, his job keeps him too busy, and he can never find enough time to write novels, and that’s why he can’t complete work and enter it for writing awards. But is that the real reason? No! It’s actually that he wants to leave the possibility of “I can do it if I try” open, by not committing to anything. He doesn’t want to expose his work to criticism, and he certainly doesn’t want to face the reality that he might produce an inferior piece of writing and face rejection. He wants to live inside that realm of possibilities, where he can say that he could do it if he only had the time, or that he could write if he just had the proper environment, and that he really does have the talent for it. In another five or ten years, he will probably start using other excuses like “I’m not young anymore” or “I’ve got a family to think about now.”

“No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.”

You’re wrong. You notice only your shortcomings because you’ve resolved to not start liking yourself. In order to not like yourself, you don’t see your strong points and focus only on your shortcomings.** First, understand this point. YOUTH: I have resolved to not start liking myself? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. To you, not liking yourself is a virtue. YOUTH: Why?

We do not walk in order to compete with someone. It is in trying to progress past who one is now that there is value.

If there is competition at the core of a person’s interpersonal relationships, he will not be able to escape interpersonal relationship problems or escape misfortune. YOUTH: Why not? PHILOSOPHER: Because at the end of a competition, there are winners and losers. [[Competition]]

is what is so terrifying about competition. Even if you’re not a loser, even if you’re someone who keeps on winning, if you are someone who has placed himself in competition, you will never have a moment’s peace. You don’t want to be a loser. And you always have to keep on winning if you don’t want to be a loser. You can’t trust other people. [[Competition]]

PHILOSOPHER: But do other people actually look at you so much? Are they really watching you around the clock and lying in wait for the perfect moment to attack? It seems rather unlikely.

However, once one is released from the schema of competition, the need to triumph over someone disappears. One is also released from the fear that says, Maybe I will lose. And one becomes able to celebrate other people’s happiness with all one’s heart. One may become able to contribute actively to other people’s happiness. The person who always has the will to help another in times of need—that is someone who may properly be called your comrade.

Comrades,” your way of looking at the world will change utterly. No longer will you think of the world as a perilous place, or be plagued by needless doubts; the world will appear before you as a safe and pleasant place.

Anger is a form of communication, and that communication is nevertheless possible without using anger. We can convey our thoughts and intentions and be accepted without any need for anger. If you learn to understand this experientially, the anger emotion will stop appearing all on its own.

Admitting mistakes, conveying words of apology, and stepping down from power struggles—none of these things is defeat.

The pursuit of superiority is not something that is carried out through competition with other people.

First, there are two objectives for behavior: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. Then, the two objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviors are the consciousness that I have the ability and the consciousness that people are my comrades.

Relationships that arise out of these processes. He referred to them as “tasks of work,” “tasks of friendship,” and “tasks of love,” and all together as “life tasks.”

PHILOSOPHER: If one takes appropriate action, one receives praise. If one takes inappropriate action, one receives punishment. Adler was very critical of education by reward and punishment. It leads to mistaken lifestyles in which people think, If no one is going to praise me, I won’t take appropriate action and If no one is going to punish me, I’ll engage in inappropriate actions, too. You already have the goal of wanting to be praised when you start picking up litter. And if you aren’t praised by anyone, you’ll either be indignant or decide that you’ll never do such a thing again. Clearly, there’s something wrong with this situation.

PHILOSOPHER: In the teachings of Judaism, one finds a view that goes something like this: If you are not living your life for yourself, then who is going to live it for you? You are living only your own life. When it comes to who you are living it for, of course it’s you. And then, if you are not living your life for yourself, who could there be to live it instead of you?

PHILOSOPHER: There is a simple way to tell whose task it is. Think, Who ultimately is going to receive the result brought about by the choice that is made?

That is Adler’s life-lie again. I can’t do my work because I’ve been shunned by my boss. It’s the boss’s fault that my work isn’t going well. The person who says such things is bringing up the existence of the boss as an excuse for the work that doesn’t go well.

Last time, you were saying that you wanted some specific steps. This is what I propose. First, one should ask, “Whose task is this?” Then do the separation of tasks. Calmly delineate up to what point one’s own tasks go, and from what point they become another person’s tasks. And do not intervene in other people’s tasks, or allow even a single person to intervene in one’s own tasks. This is a specific and revolutionary viewpoint that is unique to Adlerian psychology and contains the potential to utterly change one’s interpersonal relationship problems.

A stone is powerless. Once it has begun to roll downhill, it will continue to roll until released from the natural laws of gravity and inertia. **But we are not stones. We are beings who are capable of resisting inclination. We can stop our tumbling selves and climb uphill. **The desire for recognition is probably a natural desire. So are you going to keep rolling downhill in order to receive recognition from others?

nor becomes defiant. One just separates tasks. There may be a person who does not think well of you, but that is not your task. And again, thinking things like He should like me or I’ve done all this, so it’s strange that he doesn’t like me, is the reward-oriented way of thinking of having intervened in another person’s tasks. One moves forward without fearing the possibility of being disliked.

When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness.

So would you say that people like me, who fear being judged by others, are self-centered, too? Even though I try so hard to be mindful of others and adjust myself to them? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. In the sense that you are concerned solely with the “I,” you are self-centered. You want to be thought well of by others, and that is why you worry about the way they look at you. That is not concern for others. It is nothing but attachment to self.

A way of living in which one is constantly troubled by how one is seen by others is a self-centered lifestyle in which one’s sole concern is with the “I.”

Even if you do derive joy from being praised, it is the same as being dependent on vertical relationships and acknowledging that you have no ability. Because giving praise is a judgment that is passed by a person of ability onto a person without ability.

When receiving praise becomes one’s goal, one is choosing a way of living that is in line with another person’s system of values.

This is a very important point. Does one build vertical relationships, or does one build horizontal relationships? This is an issue of lifestyle, and human beings are not so clever as to be able to have different lifestyles available whenever the need arises. In other words, deciding that one is “equal to this person” or “in a hierarchical relationship with that person” does not work.

One cannot change what one is born with. But one can, under one’s own power, go about changing what use one makes of that equipment. So in that case, one simply has to focus on what one can change, rather than on what one cannot. This is what I call self-acceptance.

Accept what is irreplaceable. Accept “this me” just as it is. And have the courage to change what one can change. That is self-acceptance.

In the teachings of Judaism, one finds the following anecdote: “If there are ten people, one will be someone who criticizes you no matter what you do. This person will come to dislike you, and you will not learn to like him either. Then, there will be two others who accept everything about you and whom you accept too, and you will become close friends with them. The remaining seven people will be neither of these types.” Now, do you focus on the one person who dislikes you? Do you pay more attention to the two who love you? Or would you focus on the crowd, the other seven? A person who is lacking in harmony of life will see only the one person he dislikes and will make a judgment of the world from that.

YOUTH: Well, what is your image of life? PHILOSOPHER: Do not treat it as a line. Think of life as a series of dots. If you look through a magnifying glass at a solid line drawn with chalk, you will discover that what you thought was a line is actually a series of small dots. Seemingly linear existence is actually a series of dots; in other words, life is a series of moments.

PHILOSOPHER: What kind of goal is the act of going on a journey? Suppose you are going on a journey to Egypt. Would you try to arrive at the Great Pyramid of Giza as efficiently and quickly as possible, and then head straight back home by the shortest route? One would not call that a “journey.” You should be on a journey the moment you step outside your home, and all the moments on the way to your destination should be a journey. Of course, there might be circumstances that prevent you from making it to the pyramid, but that does not mean you didn’t go on a journey. This is “energeial life.”

PHILOSOPHER: If the goal of climbing a mountain were to get to the top, that would be a kinetic act. To take it to the extreme, it wouldn’t matter if you went to the mountaintop in a helicopter, stayed there for five minutes or so, and then headed back in the helicopter again. Of course, if you didn’t make it to the mountaintop, that would mean the mountain-climbing expedition was a failure. However, if the goal is mountain climbing itself, and not just getting to the top, one could say it is energeial. In this case, in the end it doesn’t matter whether one makes it to the mountaintop or not.

Imagine that you are standing on a theater stage. If the house lights are on, you’ll probably be able to see all the way to the back of the hall. But if you’re under a bright spotlight, you won’t be able to make out even the front row. That’s exactly how it is with our lives. It’s because we cast a dim light on our entire lives that we are able to see the past and the future. Or at least we imagine we can. But if one is shining a bright spotlight on here and now, one cannot see the past or the future anymore.

We should live more earnestly only here and now. The fact that you think you can see the past, or predict the future, is proof that rather than living earnestly here and now, you are living in a dim twilight. Life is a series of moments, and neither the past nor the future exists. You are trying to give yourself a way out by focusing on the past and the future. What happened in the past has nothing whatsoever to do with your here and now, and what the future may hold is not a matter to think about here and now. If you are living earnestly here and now, you will not be concerned with such things.

To shine a spotlight on here and now is to go about doing what one can do now, earnestly and conscientiously.

Living earnestly here and now is itself a dance. One must not get too serious. Please do not confuse being earnest with being too serious. YOUTH: Be earnest but not too serious. PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. Life is always simple, not something that one needs to get too serious about.

PHILOSOPHER: The greatest life-lie of all is to not live here and now. It is to look at the past and the future, cast a dim light on one’s entire life, and believe that one has been able to see something.

PHILOSOPHER: No matter what moments you are living, or if there are people who dislike you, as long as you do not lose sight of the guiding star of “I contribute to others,” you will not lose your way, and you can do whatever you like. Whether you’re disliked or not, you pay it no mind and live free.

PHILOSOPHER: Well, in other words, if “I” change, the world will change. This means that the world can be changed only by me and no one else will change it for me. The world that has appeared to me since learning of Adlerian psychology is not the world I once knew.

PHILOSOPHER: One more time, I give you the words of Adler: “Someone has to start. Other people might not be cooperative, but that is not connected to you. My advice is this: You should start. With no regard to whether others are cooperative or not.”

Adlerian psychology, which draws inspiration from these philosophical insights to proclaim “All problems are interpersonal relationship problems,” “People can change and be happy from this moment onward,” and “The problem is not one of ability, but of courage” was to utterly change the worldview of this rather confused youth.

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