The Courage to be Disliked is a popular Japanese book that “teaches us the simple yet profound lessons required to liberate our real selves and find lasting happiness.” Big claim.
I read this book in March 2019, and according to Goodreads, rated it 4 stars. I liked it, but nothing really clicked. Comrades, tasks, vertical relationships. What? The book plays out as a simple dialogue between young and old man, which was easy to read but I couldn’t connect with all these different terms. I tried, I put together a google slide deck, I sketched a bit, drew some diagrams, but otherwise forgot all about it.
Below, I’ve revisited some of the key themes that I think are important and how I think about them now. If you’re interested you should give it a read, you might get something out of it.
Really? I thought the past makes you who you are? What about trauma? High school? Nope. Most of us ‘resolve’ and settle into a familiar track, whether that’s positive or negative. The tricky thing is you and only you need to make the decision to change your habits, which is hard because it’s easy to talk yourself out of such things.
The ‘courage to be disliked’ is really a fancy way of saying ‘liking yourself’. Instead, I interpreted this as ‘f*** the haters’, which is not quite the point. When it comes to relationships, we invent many judgements about others that are usually not true. Believing this type of thinking seems to cause great unhappiness.
In the book, the young guy is so adamant that his problems are important, intractable and unique. Our misfortune tends to feels very important and special, from a stubbed toe to a car crash. Humans are very good at fashioning these bubbles that become disconnected from reality. This view of the world applies directly to our relationships, where we obsesses over inferiority and endlessly compare.
The old man tells the young man to stop being such a special snowflake. If you can feel at ease with yourself, it’s completely natural to be interested and helpful to others. This is where a lot of feeling of goodwill, compassion and yep, the ‘h’ word comes from. There is no agenda. On the flipside, if you are angry and inward focused, it is easy to feel separate from others because, well that’s the way it feels! I believe this is a negative loop that can spin very fast and in some cases shoot you straight for intel-land . If we have a family member who is sick, we shouldn’t be concerned with anything aside from helping (not their response, complaints, side remarks, or any other thoughts you have about them) – because you love them, you’re physically able to and you feel good doing so.
Another idea I couldn’t connect up was ‘courage’. What does courage have to do with interpersonal relationships? The author encourages calm, objective self-worth and in a similar way that a large rock is ‘strong’, courage is something you get for free.
‘Seperation of tasks’
The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.Epictetus
Lastly, in a similar way to how Stoicism ignored events out of our control, a ton of suffering emanates from general confusion and misappropriation of your attention and energy. If you feel some shame and embarrassment by a stranger who you interact with for 3 seconds, think deeply about what that says about you.
Rather than detached or ruminating, it’s possible to be bemused or stoic or equanimous. Like standing watching a stray dog chase its tail. Ultimately you have no skin in the game. Seperation of tasks was a confusing phrase but it’s simply understanding the fact that almost everything is somewhat out of your control. With that wisdom, it’s only natural to help others, create, give back, and maneuver through life with a little less friction.