🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences
- We alone are responsible for the actions we take in life and the choices we make, and blaming others or events in our past for our current and possible future predicaments are excuses which get us nowhere.
- Living in fear of other people’s judgment or seeking approval and recognition from others blocks us from focusing on our own growth and self-fulfillment.
- Happiness comes from identifying as a valuable part of community, building strong connections and contributing.
Have you ever heard of the Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler? Apparently, he is sometimes cited as being one of the three people who shaped the whole field, the other two being Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The field which Adler founded is called “individual psychology” and aims to help people navigate their life much more than to find the reasons in their past which might prevent them to do so. This happens somewhere at an intersection between psychology and philosophy.
The student-teacher pair who authored this book, is from Japan, thereby giving the Austrian story a cultural twist, which makes it even more interesting. And to add another layer to it, Kishimi and Koga have decided to write this book about Alfred Adler’s ideas in the dialogue way which Plato used to write down the wisdom received by his teacher, Socrates. So we have here two Japanese philosophers who use an ancient Greek method in order to explain Austrian psychology. I love this, as it shows how universal the ideas are and how close-knit the human species actually is.
As a whole, this book is interesting and can be read rather quickly without losing the reader. It does a good job of explaining a lot of the Adlerian ideas, and those, while often more or less superficial, are beneficial to hear or to be exposed to, in my opinion.
The title is misleading, possibly to sell more books. The topic of courage plays a big role but the idea to have the courage to be disliked in order to experience personal freedom is just a very small part of the book. It still is an important one and I think also one of the more controversial ideas which need to be explained and put into context as to not turn out harmful if read by someone. Another of these potentially harmful ideas would be that trauma doesn’t exist. You definitely need to put that statement into context, which the book does to an extent, but it leaves the situation unsolved, in my opinion. I’ve followed this book up with a book on child psychology, which deals with childhood trauma at its core, and comparing the two books’ stances on trauma doesn’t go well for this book here. Still, I think it is good to put down a radical new approach, and I also believe that to an extent the idea is good and helpful, but you can’t just stop at that point after declaring that trauma is just thoughts and thoughts can be controlled. It leaves the person reading it and affected by it stranded and wanting more insight and help. And the person who reads this and doesn’t think of themselves as having experienced trauma will now behave towards people who claim to have been traumatized in a dismissive way, possibly.
That’s the main problem I have with this book, because it overly simplifies many such topics, the trauma stance just being one of them.
The other smaller problem I see is the believability of the two characters, especially the one described as “a youth”. He is supposed to be the person you as the reader can identify with the most, because he is there to learn. But, he has such a weird personality, it makes it hard to do so. He is arrogant, insulting, and nearly suicidal at times. He laughs at the ideas of the wise old philosopher often, and you expect him to go on this development arc over the course of the book so that on the last page he is cured and finally doing fine in his life. Of course, that happens, but it feels forced and also rushed, and the character just isn’t believable, from my point of view. This taints the whole story because it draws attention away from the core points being made.
On the positive side, the book is an introduction to an interesting part of psychology which is centered around empowerment. The whole field of “positive psychology” probably has Adler, among others, at its foundation, and this is helping people, including me.
🍀 How the Book Changed Me
- One of the core ideas, to not let yourself be guided by a search for approval and recognition from others for no good reason, has made it into my daily thinking. “Am I doing this only for the recognition?” is a good question to ask. Because as we’ve learned in this book, this is not what makes us happy in the long run. It’s being a valuable member of a community, which we should try to move forward in order to feel more fulfilled.
- Identifying my own thoughts and thought-patterns and asking myself if what I’m thinking actually is helpful for me or others, is another such thing which made a difference. Emotions have goals, they exist and are used to further a motivation. Seeing it from this point of view takes away a lot of the power of the negative emotions.
The First Night: Deny Trauma
For example, Dale Carnegie, who wrote the international bestsellers How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, referred to Adler as ‘a great psychologist who devoted his life to researching humans and their latent abilities’. The influence of Adler’s thinking is clearly present throughout his writings. And in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, much of the content closely resembles Adler’s ideas.
Think about it this way. Your friend had the goal of not going out beforehand, and he’s been manufacturing a state of anxiety and fear as a means to achieve that goal. In Adlerian psychology, this is called ‘teleology’.
In Adlerian psychology, trauma is definitively denied. This was a very new and revolutionary point.
‘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.’
Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.
The goal of shouting came before anything else. That is to say, by shouting, you wanted to make the waiter submit to you and listen to what you had to say. As a means to do that, you fabricated the emotion of anger.
To quote Adler again: ‘The important thing is not what one is born with, but what use one makes of that equipment.’
At some stage in your life, you chose ‘being unhappy’. It is not because you were born into unhappy circumstances or ended up in an unhappy situation. It’s that you judged ‘being unhappy’ to be good for you.
But what you do with it from here on in is your responsibility. Whether you go on choosing the lifestyle you’ve had up till now, or you choose a new lifestyle altogether, it’s entirely up to you.
The Second Night: All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems
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.
You were so afraid of interpersonal relationships that you came to dislike yourself. You’ve avoided interpersonal relationships by disliking yourself.
In other words, the feelings of inferiority we’re suffering from are subjective interpretations rather than objective facts? – Exactly.
We cannot alter objective facts. But subjective interpretations can be altered as much as one likes.
Adler is saying that the pursuit of superiority and the feeling of inferiority are not diseases, but stimulants to normal, healthy striving and growth.
The inferiority complex, on the other hand, refers to a condition of having begun to use one’s feeling of inferiority as a kind of excuse. So, one thinks to oneself, I’m not well educated, so I can’t succeed, or I’m not good-looking, so I can’t get married.
Adler says, ‘In fact, if we were to ask ourselves who is the strongest person in our culture, the logical answer would be the baby. The baby rules and cannot be dominated.’ The baby rules over the adults with his weakness. And it is because of this weakness that no one can control him.
Completely understanding the feelings of the person who is suffering is something that no one is capable of. But as long as one continues to use one’s misfortune to one’s advantage in order to be ‘special’, one will always need that misfortune.
A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others, but from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self.
When you are challenged to a fight, and you sense that it is a power struggle, step down from the conflict as soon as possible. Do not answer his action with a reaction. That is the only thing we can do.
Look, people are extremely selfish creatures who are capable of finding any number of flaws and shortcomings in others whenever the mood strikes them. A man of perfect character could come along, and one would have no difficulty in digging up some reason to dislike him.
The Third Night: Discard Other People’s Tasks
There is no need to be recognised by others. Actually, one must not seek recognition. This point cannot be overstated.
This is the danger of the desire for recognition. Why is it that people seek recognition from others? In many cases, it is due to the influence of reward-and-punishment education.
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 are not living to satisfy other people’s expectations, and neither am I. It is not necessary to satisfy other people’s expectations.
In general, all interpersonal relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other people’s tasks, or having one’s own tasks intruded on.
There is a simple way to tell whose task it is. Think, Who ultimately is going to receive the end result brought about by the choice that is made? When the child has made the choice of not studying, ultimately, the end result of that decision—not being able to keep up in class or to get into the preferred school, for instance—does not have to be received by the parents.
For the busy mother, it is certainly faster to tie [the kid’s shoes for them] than to wait for him to do it himself. But that is an intervention, and it is taking the child’s task away from him. And as a result of repeating that intervention, the child will cease to learn anything, and will lose the courage to face his life tasks.
Please grasp this point. If one is living in a such a way as to satisfy other people’s expectations, and one is entrusting one’s own life to others, that is a way of living in which one is lying to oneself, and continuing that lying to include the people around one.
We are beings who are capable of resisting inclination. We can stop our tumbling selves and climb uphill.
‘freedom is being disliked by other people’.
It is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom, and a sign that you are living in accordance with your own principles.
Unless one is unconcerned by other people’s judgements, has no fear of being disliked by other people, and pays the cost that one might never be recognised, one will never be able to follow through in one’s own way of living. That is to say, one will not be able to be free.
‘It isn’t because he hit me that I have a bad relationship with my father, but that I brought out the memory of being hit because I don’t want my relationship with my father to get better,’ even then, how does it actually change things? It doesn’t change the fact that you were hit in childhood, right? – [..] But if I can think, I brought out the memory of being hit because I don’t want my relationship with my father to get better, then I will be holding the card to repair relations.
The Fourth Night: Where the Center of the World Is
Adlerian psychology has the view that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. Interpersonal relations are the source of unhappiness. And the opposite can be said, too—interpersonal relations are the source of happiness.
First of all, each of us is a member of a community, and that is where we belong. Feeling that one has one’s own place of refuge within the community; feeling that ‘it’s okay to be here’, and having a sense of belonging—these are basic human desires.
But you are not the centre of the world, and neither am I. One has to stand on one’s own two feet, and take one’s own steps forward with the tasks of interpersonal relations. One needs to think not What will this person give me? but, rather, What can I give to this person? That is commitment to the community.
Each person belongs to a separate community. And when it comes down to it, all of us belong to the community of the earth, and the community of the universe.
When we run into difficulties in our interpersonal relations, or when we can no longer see a way out, what we should consider first and foremost is the principle that says ‘listen to the voice of the larger community’.
In the act of praise, there is the aspect of it being ‘the passing of judgement by a person of ability on a person of no ability’. [which belittles the recipient]
In other words, the mother who praises the child by saying things like ‘You’re such a good helper!’ or ‘Good job!’ or ‘Well, aren’t you something!’ is unconsciously creating a hierarchical relationship and seeing the child as beneath her.
Whether we praise or rebuke others, the only difference is one of the carrot or the stick, and the background goal is manipulation.
In Adler’s view, ‘It is only when a person is able to feel that he has worth that he can possess courage.’
It’s quite simple. It is when one is able to feel I am beneficial to the community that one can have a true sense of one’s worth.
‘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.’
The Fifth Night: To Live in Earnest in the Here and Now
There is no need to go out of one’s way to be positive and affirm oneself. It’s not self-affirmation that we are concerned with, but self-acceptance.
To put it more simply, say you’ve got a score of sixty per cent, but you tell yourself I just happened to get unlucky this time around, and the real me is one hundred per cent. That is self-affirmation. By contrast, if one accepts oneself as one is, as sixty per cent, and thinks to oneself, How should I go about getting closer to one hundred per cent?—that is self-acceptance.
That reminds me of a line that the writer Kurt Vonnegut quoted in one of his books: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.’ It’s in the novel Slaughterhouse-Five.
Right now, you are only concerned about the times you were taken advantage of, and nothing else. You focus only on the pain from the wounds you sustained on such occasions. But if you are afraid to have confidence in others, in the long run, you will not be able to build deep relationships with anyone.
In other words, contribution to others, rather than being about getting rid of the ‘I’ and being of service to someone, is actually something one does in order to be truly aware of the worth of the ‘I’.
Does one accept oneself on the level of acts, or on the level of being? This is truly a question that relates to the courage to be happy.
For a human being, the greatest unhappiness is not being able to like oneself. Adler came up with an extremely simple answer to address this reality. Namely, that the feeling of ‘I am beneficial to the community’ or ‘I am of use to someone’ is the only thing that can give one a true awareness that one has worth.
Whether they are trying to be especially good, or trying to be especially bad, the goal is the same: to attract the attention of other people, get out of the ‘normal’ condition and become a ‘special being’. That is their only goal.
Self-acceptance is the vital first step. If you are able to possess the courage to be normal, your way of looking at the world will change dramatically.
Yes. [life] is a series of moments called ‘now’. We can live only in the here and now. Our lives exist only in moments.
The life that ends at the age of twenty and the life that ends at ninety are both complete lives, and lives of happiness.
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.
What is the meaning of life? What are people living for? When someone posed these questions to Adler, this was his answer: ‘Life in general has no meaning.’ [..] Regardless of the circumstances, we must take some form of action.
‘Whatever meaning life has must be assigned to it by the individual.’