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The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness (2018)
By Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
ISBN: 978-1-5011-9727-7
–Review by Douglas Balzer

It wasn’t until recently, 2016, scientists were able to conclusively prove Einstein’s general theory of relativity. What this means is the study of physics operated for over 100 years under the assumption that Einstein’s approach was correct but did not actually know. Think about this for a moment. The scientific world of physics operates for decades with an unproven theory; therefore, decades of work by thousands of people could collapse at any moment if Einstein’s theory were disproved. Contemplating the catastrophic effects this would have on the field of physics is overwhelming. Science, physics has operated in this way that everything is a theory, waiting to be disproved.
We should not be surprised if we see the resurgence of older ideas within the various field of study. The example of psychics is one, but the views of Freud and Jung have been the dominant ideology of psychology for a considerable time now. But, in our time, we see the re-emergence of one of Freud’s and Jung’s contemporaries is becoming part of the conversation. The authors of The Courage to be Disliked, Ichiro Kishimi, and Fumitake Koga have brought back the ideologies of philosopher and psychiatrist Alfred Adler in this book. Adler believed that we all have one basic desire and goal: to belong and to feel significant. Together they have studied Adler’s work for decades and present a modified version of it for our consideration in the present context in the search for happiness.
For pastor’s and semioticians, Adler’s theory provides insightfulness into the human condition of belonging and significance. Observing the dilemma of loneliness experienced by the most connected generations in history is the need to belong, yet we see statistically their experience is anything close to belonging. As far as feeling significant many are seeking the feeling of significance through goals that lead them to brief moments of fame through Twitter, YouTube, and the plethora of social media sites. The overall picture is not one of the healthy human holistic being. Adler developed his theory intimately connected to a humanistic philosophy living that is easily adaptable to spiritual disciplines of Christianity.
Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga use the narrative of an unhappy young man, who engages the help of a philosopher who lives on the periphery of his city. The young man and the philosopher have a series of five conversations through which the philosopher helps him to take control of his own life and happiness. Of course, I do not want to give away to much of the content of this book, so I will just address a few of the lessons brought out by the narrative. Now, here is an overview of Adler’s ideologies that can help us to take charge of our lives, live true to ourselves, and exercise what control we can over our lives!
The first lesson is, according to Adler, your past does not determine your future. The Freudian psychological theory has been our primary orientation that the past does determine our future. Freud’s key term is trauma. It asserts our self-image takes deep root in our psyche at an early age. So, traumatic experiences will lead to determining our future behavior. Freud’s assumption is most of our adult lives are spent trying to fight, unravel, and overcome our limiting beliefs from the past. Adler states this is not true.
While Adler agreed that we form a style of life early on, being optimistic or pessimistic, for example, he did not believe this to be a fixed point in the human character. Adler defended the idea that we can change who we are at any given moment. Even if you could trace all your flaws back to specific traumatic events in your childhood, so what? You can change them now, in the present. Done is done. You have to believe that something different can happen to break old patterns and you can choose a new outlook at any time in your journey.
The second lesson, according to Adler is hating yourself is usually a way of shutting out others rather than necessary. Adler categorizes flaws into two categories: objective and subjective inferiorities. Actual (objective) flaws are ones that are measurable and confirmable, like being shorter than someone else or having less money. Subjective inferiorities, however, are entirely made up and are not measurable or confirmable. One student of the authors admitted he disliked himself because he was too aware of his own flaws.
While talking with the student, Kishimi, too, realized the flaws the young man saw were not real. Primarily, he was coming up with reasons to hate himself to seek isolation from others and, therefore, avoid getting hurt. His loneliness was the cause of his misery, not the effect of the actual shortcomings. According to Adler the only inferiorities we have to actively deal with are the real (objective) ones, and only if they hinder us in reaching our goals. Hence the subjective inferiorities are even there, so be sure to probe them before you deem yourself unworthy.
The third and final lesson I will share from this book is, according to Adler: A competitive mindset destroys your mental health. It is a prominent topic in debates between Western vs. Eastern culture. Eastern countries like Japan and China so have competition, but overall are more focused on cooperation, while Western nations like the US and Germany dramatically focus on the competition of individuals; the winner takes the glory.
Adler stressed that if an individual had to be on top, be the winner in order to be happy, they need to come out at the top of the game, earn more money, get more likes or have more friends, you will be sad and stressed, this is a huge issue. According to Adler, once you let go of a narrow, competitive mindset and embrace abundance, you will never feel like anyone is holding you back. Adler’s central advice is there is enough abundance to go around for everyone, and as long as you begin and continue to work on yourself, you can achieve anything you want!
In the end, I find Adler promotes an empowering, rational, and thoughtful ideology of an embodying a calm, cool-headed lifestyle. Adler’s ideologies are helpful in they bridge the current psychological conversations and are insightful in they provide useful, level-headed approaches to living a happy and fulfilling life.
“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.” Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga