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  • Writer's pictureNishant Mittal

The courage to be disliked: Book Review by Nishant Mittal

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Psychology and philosophy books make up for nice reading experiences and great coffee table conversations. It's fascinating to read about some deep questions around life and the workings of human mind. While both of these things have no definite answers, and even trying to decipher them seems like an exercise in futility. It's always fun to sometimes think about them.

Why do we do what we do?

How can we do it better anyway?

Is there a meaning of our life? What is it?

If not, how do we make our lives more meaningful?

These are some questions which most of these books are focused on, and each school of thought answers them differently. 'The courage to be disliked' is based on 'Adlerian psychology' which has strikingly unique answers to everything, which is why I picked it up.

Let's consider the first question: Why do we do what we do?

This is a very important one because it's essentially the centrepiece of modern counselling, globally. The mainstream way of prying this is based on Freudian psychology, which derives answers in a more "cause and effect" kind of a way. You're feeling sad? It's basically because of some trauma you experienced in the past. Resolution of those traumas leads to the treatment of the subject. It's Aetiology 101: The study of the causes.

Adlerian psychology is radically different. It disregards Aetiology and follows Teleology, according to which, whatever you're feeling is because you've set up a 'goal' to feel exactly like that. Are you feeling too sad after your breakup, and have locked yourself at home? It's because you've unconsciously (at a deep level) made a goal of not making new interactions which could lead to such intense heartbreaks. It's your goal to marinate in sadness and stay locked up, because it's a strategy of avoiding mishaps of the future.

Everything we're doing is because we've made a goal of doing exactly the same thing. Whatever we're feeling - sadness, happiness, or anything in between - is because of our choice of that particular goal. You want to change how you're feeling? Just change your goal. And that's that.

I loved it! This is a very counter intuitive, but intriguing explanation of our behaviour. I find this much better than choosing to resolve our past traumas as a strategy for feeling better, because I really think past is past; a bridge to nowhere. This just makes more sense!

The book is written in the form of a conversation between a philosopher and a young boy who's trying to be better. The boy is annoyingly dismissive at first, but ends up agreeing to everything by the end of each chapter. The book goes on to discuss many aspects of life, each of which uncover an aspect of Adlerian psychology which is nice to read.

While I loved the aspect of our unconscious 'goals', I didn't fully appreciate the later chapters. But it was a nice read anyway.

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