The Courage To Be Disliked (Book Club)

The Courage to be Disliked approaches its subject differently than many books in the self-development genre. It practices its message with gentle provocation and, at times, a prickly delivery that can feel jarring.

Yet, rather than spoon-feeding its readers, it collaborates with us. It invites us into the dialogue. To push back against its ideas as we lean into them. I appreciate this way of distilling the principles of Adlerian Psychology.

Embracing Pushback and Challenging Assumptions

It catalysed some fascinating Book Club discussions infused with this kind of playful pushback and deeper questioning. It trusts and respects its readers.

I love our community conversations. It’s been fun to explore a book that arms us with new ways of thinking about real challenges in everyday life.

The book pushes back on itself and permits us to tarry and grapple with it too. And at times, the smug tone of the philosopher makes it compelling and attractive to join forces with the young man to find holes in the position. This isn’t accidental. In different ways and to varying degrees throughout the book, the two characters are pretty hard to like in any absolute sense.

The young man arrives on the scene as an embodiment of modern cynicism. A personification of our Age of Separation, in which we are duty bound to worship or destroy people and their ideas. His mission is to disprove everything the philosopher proposes. Why? Maybe that’s a question for us to hold as we read.

Do we share that same desire to resist change?

The Paradox of Being Disliked: Embracing the Freedom to be Ourselves

My question on first encountering the book and imagining its message before I read it…

Do we REALLY need more people with the courage to be disliked? Isn’t there enough obnoxiousness filling the air already? After all, many people are already great at doing things that others find outrageous.

This is where we peel back a critical layer of the book. Undergirding this quest for self-acceptance and spirit at peace with itself is the freedom to be disliked by people we admire and would like to be positively recognised by.

It’s easy to be disliked by those we see as “other”. Adopting a binary view of victims and perpetrators, heroes and villains, good and bad, simplifies the world. It’s an excellent way to sell products, services, and ideas fuelled by paranoia, distrust, and fear. To be disliked by “the other” feeds the life lie that allows us to keep living in separation, holding “people like that” at arm’s length.

The Cost of Seeking Approval: Losing Ourselves in the Quest for Acceptance

But if we fear those we admire disliking us, we can lose ourselves. We might park our core values and inner compass if it means being accepted and recognised by the “right” people.

This reflects a script we write early in life through our drive for safety and belonging. We find conditions on our worthiness and acceptability. Who must I be? What do I need to do and not do to remain safe and protected?

When we carry this with us, it can lead us away from ourselves. When the drive for belonging and recognition is viewed through a vertical framework of relationships (we view people through a pecking order), we can end up serving the desire to be liked ahead of our inner compass. Or we head the other way down the path, viewing others with impenetrable suspicion and distrust that leaves us separate and dead inside.

Self-Worth, Achievement, and The Courage To Be Disliked

I recently heard a sportsperson say, “I love winning, but what makes me a dangerous opponent is that I don’t mind losing. I’ve done it often, and it’s not actually that bad.” This is a particular type of freedom. He has separated losing from his story of self-worth. Acceptance at the level of being (whether or not I win, I am OK) rather than at the level of doing (I must win to be worthy of acceptance).

The courage to be disliked is the same. If someone doesn’t like me, it’s their prerogative. It’s also okay if they dislike what I did. Although feeling appreciated is nice, I can’t compel them to appreciate me. It’s their task.

Making decisions based on the desire for recognition will only leave us disconnected from ourselves.

Courage To Stop Waiting

We might be waiting for someone else to make the first move. To provide permission or reassurance that it’s safe to step forwards. A deeply sensitive nervous system bakes this in. We observe before taking action, ensuring we make the best choice.

This can cause stagnation and even regression when it translates to interpersonal relationships. If we wait for others to do the right thing or be cooperative and decent, we will be waiting for a long time. The message is that what others do, while it impacts us, is beyond our control. Someone’s thoughts, beliefs, and judgements about us are their task, not ours.

Courage To Make The First Move

Making the first move is hard, but it’s all we can do. Start without expectations or conditions on how people react. Step forward from a place of intrinsic motivation, not external reward.

We can create what compels us. Of course, no one will say it’s safe to do so because it isn’t. It’s vulnerable, risky, and uncertain. But it’s usually worth it.

Encourage someone with words of support.

Confront the thing that is nagging away at the back of our mind.

Connect with our values and convictions. What kind of world do we want to live in? How do we want others to feel about themselves?

Courage To Be Vulnerable

It takes courage to admit that something isn’t working if no one else seems to notice or care. It takes courage to slow down and rest in a busy world, to say no to the widespread consensus and choose a different direction.

People will dislike us and that’s not a great feeling. But we can connect with something that drives us beneath the desire for recognition? Why does this matter, even if no one is watching?

Maybe others are waiting for someone else to start first.

What might we do to get the ball rolling on bringing about the world we want to live in?