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The Courage to Be Disliked by Fumitake Koga, Ichiro Kishimi

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways

  1. Past doesn't matter
    1. None of us live in an objective world, but instead in a subjective world that we ourselves  have given meaning to. The world you see is different from the one I see, and it’s  impossible to share your world with anyone else.
    2. PHILOSOPHER: If we focus only on past causes and try to explain things solely through  cause and effect, we end up with “determinism.” Because what this says is that our  present and our future have already been decided by past occurrences, and are  unalterable. Am I wrong? YOUTH: So you’re saying that the past doesn’t matter?  PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that is the standpoint of Adlerian psychology.
  2. Trauma doesn't exist
    1. YOUTH: Wait a minute! Are you denying the existence of trauma altogether?  PHILOSOPHER: Yes, I am. Adamantly. YOUTH: What! Aren’t you, or I guess I should  say Adler, an authority on psychology? PHILOSOPHER: In Adlerian psychology, trauma  is definitively denied. This was a very new and revolutionary point. Certainly, the  Freudian view of trauma is fascinating. Freud’s idea is that a person’s psychic wounds  (traumas) cause his or her present unhappiness. When you treat a person’s life as a vast  narrative, there is an easily understandable causality and sense of dramatic development  that creates strong impressions and is extremely attractive. But Adler, in denial of the  trauma argument, states the following: “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.” 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.
    2. “People are not driven by past causes but move toward goals that they themselves set”
  3. The first step to change is knowing.
    1. The important thing is not what one is born with but what use one makes of that  equipment.
  4. Unhappiness Is Something You Choose for Yourself
    1. Yes, you can. People can change at any time, regardless of the environments they are in.  You are unable to change only because you are making the decision not
    2. Adlerian psychology is a psychology of courage. Your unhappiness cannot be  blamed on your past or your environment. And it isn’t that you lack competence. You just  lack courage. One might say you are lacking in the courage to be happy.
    3. Adler’s teleology tells us, “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.” That you, living in the here  and now, are the one who determines your own life.
  5. All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems
    1. The feeling of inferiority is a kind of launch pad? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. One tries  to get rid of one’s feeling of inferiority and keep moving forward. One’s never satisfied  with one’s present situation—even if it’s just a single step, one wants to make progress.  One wants to be happier. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the state of this kind of  feeling of inferiority. There are, however, people who lose the courage to take a single  step forward, who cannot accept the fact that the situation can be changed by making  realistic efforts.
    2. The condition of having a feeling of inferiority is a condition of feeling some sort of lack  in oneself in the present situation. So then, the question is— YOUTH: How do you fill in  the part that’s missing, right? PHILOSOPHER: Exactly. How to compensate for the part  that is lacking. The healthiest way is to try to compensate through striving and growth.
    3. You’re saying that boasting is an inverted feeling of inferiority? PHILOSOPHER: That’s  right. If one really has confidence in oneself, one doesn’t feel the need to boast. It’s  because one’s feeling of inferiority is strong that one boasts. One feels the need to flaunt  one’s superiority all the more. There’s the fear that if one doesn’t do that, not a single  person will accept one “the way I am.” This is a full-blown superiority complex.
    4. Adler himself pointed out, “In our culture weakness can be quite strong and powerful.”  YOUTH: So weakness is powerful? PHILOSOPHER: 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.
    5. 20. YOUTH: So life is not a competition? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. It’s enough to just  keep moving in a forward direction, without competing with anyone. And, of course,  there is no need to compare oneself with others.
    6. A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to  others; it comes from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self.
    7. Human beings are all equal, but not the same.
    8. Does that mean you dropped out of competition? That you somehow accepted defeat?  PHILOSOPHER: No. I withdrew from places that are preoccupied with winning and  losing. When one is trying to be oneself, competition will inevitably get in the way.
    9. There are probably a lot of people who feel mystified by seeing a child who cuts his  wrists, and they think, Why would he do such a thing? But try to think how the people  around the child—the parents, for instance—will feel as a result of the behavior of wrist  cutting. If you do, the goal behind the behavior should come into view of its own accord.
    10. Once the interpersonal relationship reaches the revenge stage, it is almost impossible for  either party to find a solution. To prevent this from happening, when one is challenged to  a power struggle, one must never allow oneself to be taken in.
    11. So when you’re hung up on winning and losing, you lose the ability to make the right  choices? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. It clouds your judgment, and all you can see is imminent  victory or defeat. Then you turn down the wrong path. It’s only when we take away the  lenses of competition and winning and losing that we can begin to correct and change  ourselves.
    12. In Adlerian psychology, clear objectives are laid out for human behavior and psychology.  YOUTH: What sort of objectives? PHILOSOPHER: 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.
    13. Work that can be completed without the cooperation of other people is in principle  unfeasible.
    14. There’s no value at all in the number of friends or acquaintances you have. And this is a  subject that connects with the task of love, but what we should be thinking about is the  distance and depth of the relationship.
    15. If you change, those around you will change too. They will have no choice but to change.
    16. You are not living to satisfy other people’s expectations, and neither am I. It is not  necessary to satisfy other people’s expectations. When one seeks recognition from others, and concerns oneself only with how one is  judged by others, in the end, one is living other people’s lives.
    17. One does not intrude on other people’s tasks. That’s all. In general, all interpersonal relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other  people’s tasks, or having one’s own tasks intruded on. Carrying out the separation of  tasks is enough to change one’s interpersonal relationships dramatically. 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?
    18. You are the only one who can change yourself.
    19. One can build them. The separation of tasks is not the objective for interpersonal  relationships. Rather, it is the gateway. YOUTH: The gateway? PHILOSOPHER: For  instance, when reading a book, if one brings one’s face too close to it, one cannot see  anything. In the same way, forming good interpersonal relationships requires a certain  degree of distance. When the distance gets too small and people become stuck together, it  becomes impossible to even speak to each other. But the distance must not be too great,  either. Parents who scold their children too much become mentally very distant.
    20. As I have stated repeatedly, in Adlerian psychology, we think that all problems are  interpersonal relationship problems. In other words, we seek release from interpersonal  relationships. We seek to be free from interpersonal relationships. However, it is  absolutely impossible to live all alone in the universe. In light of what we have discussed  until now, the conclusion we reach regarding “What is freedom?” should be clear.  YOUTH: What is it? PHILOSOPHER: In short, that “freedom is being disliked by other  people.” It’s that you are disliked by someone. 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.  YOUTH: But, but . . . PHILOSOPHER: It is certainly distressful to be disliked. If  possible, one would like to live without being disliked by anyone. One wants to satisfy  one’s desire for recognition. But conducting oneself in such a way as to not be disliked by  anyone is an extremely unfree way of living, and is also impossible. There is a cost  incurred when one wants to exercise one’s freedom. And the cost of freedom in  interpersonal relationships is that one is disliked by other people. The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained  that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of  lightness.
  6. Community, Praise/Punishment/Encouragement
    1. If other people are our comrades, and we live surrounded by them, we should be able to  find in that life our own place of “refuge.” Moreover, in doing so, we should begin to  have the desire to share with our comrades, to contribute to the community. This sense of  others as comrades, this awareness of “having one’s own refuge,” is called “community  feeling.” When Adler refers to community, he goes beyond the household, school, workplace, and  local society, and treats it as all-inclusive, covering not only nations and all of humanity  but also the entire axis of time from the past to the future—and he includes plants and  animals and even inanimate objects.
    2. It is necessary to make the switch from “attachment to self” to “concern for others.”
    3. People who hold the belief that they are the center of the world always end up losing their  comrades before long.
    4. Physical punishment is out of the question, of course, and rebuking is not accepted,  either. One must not praise, and one must not rebuke. That is the standpoint of Adlerian  psychology. 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. You must simply encourage
    5. As you may recall from our discussion on the separation of tasks, I brought up the subject  of intervention. This is the act of intruding on other people’s tasks. So why does a person  intervene? Here, too, in the background, vertical relationships are at play. It is precisely  because one perceives interpersonal relations as vertical, and sees the other party as  beneath one, that one intervenes. Through intervention, one tries to lead the other party in  the desired direction. One has convinced oneself that one is right and that the other party  is wrong. Of course, the intervention here is manipulation, pure and simple. Parents  commanding a child to study is a typical example of this. They might be acting out of the  best of intentions from their points of view, but when it comes down to it, the parents are  intruding and attempting to manipulate the child to go in their desired direction. YOUTH:  If one can build horizontal relationships, will that intervention disappear?  PHILOSOPHER: Yes, it will. Concretely speaking, instead of commanding from above that the child must study, one  acts on him in such a way that he can gain the confidence to take care of his own studies  and face his tasks on his own.
    6. Being praised is what leads people to form the belief that they have no ability. YOUTH:  What did you say? PHILOSOPHER: Shall I repeat myself? The more one is praised by  another person, the more one forms the belief that one has no ability. Please do your best  to remember this. You convey words of gratitude, saying thank you to this partner who has helped you with  your work. You might express straightforward delight: “I’m glad.” Or you could convey  your thanks by saying, “That was a big help.” This is an approach to encouragement that  is based on horizontal relationships. YOUTH: That’s all? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. The most  important thing is to not judge other people. “Judgment” is a word that comes out of  vertical relationships. If one is building horizontal relationships, there will be words of  more straightforward gratitude and respect and joy. YOUTH:
    7. This is a point that will connect to our subsequent discussion as well—in Adlerian  psychology, a great deal of emphasis is given to “contribution.” YOUTH: Why is that?  PHILOSOPHER: Well, what does a person have to do to get courage? In Adler’s view,  “It is only when a person is able to feel that he has worth that he can possess courage.”
    8. So the issue that arises at this point is how on earth can one become able to feel one has  worth? YOUTH: Yes, that’s it exactly! I need you to explain that very clearly, please.  PHILOSOPHER: 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. This is the answer that would  be offered in Adlerian psychology.
    9. I should start? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. Without regard to whether other people are  cooperative or not.
    10. 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. YOUTH: Do you mean that one has to choose one or the  other—vertical relationships or horizontal relationships? PHILOSOPHER: Absolutely,  yes.
  7. Excessive Self-Consciousness Stifles the Self
    1. 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. YOUTH: Not self-affirmation, but self-acceptance? PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. There is a clear  difference. Self-affirmation is making suggestions to oneself, such as “I can do it” or “I  am strong,” even when something is simply beyond one’s ability. It is a notion that can  bring about a superiority complex, and may even be termed a way of living in which one  lies to oneself. With self-acceptance, on the other hand, if one cannot do something, one  is simply accepting “one’s incapable self” as is and moving forward so that one can do  whatever one can. It is not a way of lying to oneself.
    2. This is also the case with the separation of tasks—one ascertains the things one can  change and the things one cannot change. 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.
    3. The basis of interpersonal relations is founded not on trust but on confidence. YOUTH:  And “confidence” in this case is . . . ? PHILOSOPHER: It is doing without any set  conditions whatsoever when believing in others. Even if one does not have sufficient  objective grounds for trusting someone, one believes. One believes unconditionally  without concerning oneself with such things as security. That is confidence.
    4. Well, I see what you’re getting at—the main objective, which is to build deep  relationships. But still, being taken advantage of is scary, and that’s the reality, isn’t it?  PHILOSOPHER: If it is a shallow relationship, when it falls apart the pain will be slight.  And the joy that relationship brings each day will also be slight. It is precisely because  one can gain the courage to enter into deeper relationships by having confidence in others  that the joy of one’s interpersonal relations can grow, and one’s joy in life can grow, too.
    5. To take it a step farther, one may say that people who think of others as enemies have not  attained self-acceptance and do not have enough confidence in others.
    6. Contribution to others does not connote self-sacrifice. Adler goes so far as to warn that  those who sacrifice their own lives for others are people who have conformed to society  too much. And please do not forget: We are truly aware of our own worth only when we  feel that our existence and behavior are beneficial to the community, that is to say, when  one feels “I am of use to someone.” Do you remember this? 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.” YOUTH:  Contributing to others is for oneself? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. There is no need to sacrifice  the self.
    7. Acceptance: accepting one’s irreplaceable “this me” just as it is. Confidence in others: to  place unconditional confidence at the base of one’s interpersonal relations rather than  seeding doubt.
    8. For the sake of convenience, up to this point I have discussed self-acceptance, confidence  in others, and contribution to others, in that order. However, these three are linked as an  indispensable whole, in a sort of circular structure. It is because one accepts oneself just  as one is—one self-accepts—that one can have “confidence in others” without the fear of  being taken advantage of. And it is because one can place unconditional confidence in  others, and feel that people are one’s comrades, that one can engage in “contribution to  others.” Further, it is because one contributes to others that one can have the deep  awareness that “I am of use to someone” and accept oneself just as one is. One can self-accept.
    9. They probably try to justify that by saying, “It’s busy at work, so I don’t have enough  time to think about my family.” But this is a life-lie. They are simply trying to avoid their  other responsibilities by using work as an excuse. One ought to concern oneself with  everything, from household chores and child-rearing to one’s friendships and hobbies and  so on. Adler does not recognize ways of living in which certain aspects are unusually  dominant.
    10. On such occasions, those who can accept themselves only on the level of acts are  severely damaged. YOUTH: You mean those people whose lifestyle is all about work?  PHILOSOPHER: Yes. People whose lives lack harmony. 
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
  8. Happiness is the feeling of contribution.
    1. If one really has a feeling of contribution, one will no longer have any need for  recognition from others. Because one will already have the real awareness that “I am of  use to someone,” without needing to go out of one’s way to be acknowledged by others.  In other words, a person who is obsessed with the desire for recognition does not have  any community feeling yet, and has not managed to engage in self-acceptance,  confidence in others, or contribution to others.
    2. What Adlerian psychology emphasizes at this juncture are the words “the courage to be  normal.” YOUTH: The courage to be normal? PHILOSOPHER: Why is it necessary to be  special? Probably because one cannot accept one’s normal self. And it is precisely for this  reason that when being especially good becomes a lost cause, one makes the huge leap to  being especially bad—the opposite extreme. But is being normal, being ordinary, really  such a bad thing? Is it something inferior? Or, in truth, isn’t everybody normal? It is  necessary to think this through to its logical conclusion.
    3. This conception, which treats life as a kind of story, is an idea that links with Freudian  etiology (the attributing of causes), and is a way of thinking that makes the greater part of  life into something that is “en route.” 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.
    4. If life were a line, then life planning would be possible. But our lives are only a series of  dots. A well-planned life is not something to be treated as necessary or unnecessary, as it  is impossible.
    5. 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.”
    6. 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.
    7. And Adler, having stated that “life in general has no meaning,” then continues,  “Whatever meaning life has must be assigned to it by the individual.”
    8. 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.
    9. Philosophy refers not to “wisdom” itself but to “love of wisdom,” and it is the very  process of learning what one does not know and arriving at wisdom that is important.  Whether or not one attains wisdom in the end is not an issue.

What I got out of it

  1. I think the narrative format is really helpful to make some concepts very concrete and memorable - all problems are interpersonal problems; you can be happy today; you are the only one who can change you; happiness is contribution; past doesn't matter; trauma isn't real - we are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give to them; separation of tasks; courage comes from the confidence that you can contribute, that you are worthy; only encouragement and not praise