“People can change and be happy from this moment onward . . . the problem is not one of ability, but of courage.” —from the book The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
“As long as one keeps searching, the answers come.” American folk singer Joan Baez certainly narrows down succinctly and accurately the practice of finding our way; however, along the way toward the revelation of the answers, we must be courageous enough to feel uncomfortable for portions of the journey as well as capable of homing in on the gems of wisdom and letting go of needing to be agile when trying something new in our lives.
The answers come to those who accept moments of clumsiness, frequent stumbles, nights and days of ambiquity and confusion because embracing anything new, trying anything new which speaks to what we are seeking and trying to understanding will require a beginner’s mind. Learning to walk required of each of us even though we don’t remember (but I truly think it would help if we could) numerous stumbles, falls forward and backward, sometimes temporarily causing pain to our face, knees and bottoms. But we don’t remember this because we needed to learn how to walk to participate fully in the life we had no clue awaited us.
Keep such an analogy in mind as you choose to continue to search for your answers. I too have to remind myself of the toddler parallel, and as I grow older and hopefully not only in age, but in wisdom, I become more and more grateful for each challenge. One of the most valuable development skills the book argues a parent can teach their child is how to overcome challenges, and that can only happen by letting them navigate through tasks which appear difficult to them, but easy for us – tying shoes for example. While appearing easy to the adult, the child must start with such challenges in order to be confident enough to navigate through more difficult challenges as their life unfolds.
Again another axiom comes to mind, “Life doesn’t get easier, we just become better equipped to handle well the challenges when presented.” However, the caveat is we must keep stepping through the challenges and not settling and unconsciously ignoring them. Life will always present dilemmas, quandaries and moments of difficulty; it is our choice to try to understand how to navigate through such situations. We are the director of our lives, and it is up to us to direct ourselves to the wisdom necessary, learn said wisdom and apply it.
Today, I am excited to share with you a handful of insights the book The Courage to Be Disliked taught me (there are soooooo many more – I highly recommend reading the book). On the surface, each is easy to comprehend, but the first time we put the practice into use, it may be difficult. With time and consistent effort however, the practice will become habituated and before we realize it, our lives, our everyday lives and the longview of our lives, will change for the better. Let’s take a look at the list.
1.Let go of competing with the world
Seeking to be superior in comparison with other people is a denial of our own journey and our true selves. As I will share in #5 below, we each have a unique something to contribute positively to the larger world, but when we consume ourselves with ‘proving’ ourselves in competition of any sort, we step away from self-growth and discovery of our unique talents and gifts. The only healthy form of competition “comes from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self”. Refrain from ‘gaining status or honor’, in other words, approval from the outside world. Instead, invest in being yourself. Invest in self-growth and discovery and let go of competition – anything preoccupied with winning and losing as “it will invitably get in the way”.
2. The meaning we give the events in our life journey determines its quality
“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.”
The life truth I have seen again and again and more vividly as I grasped its true meaning is if we argue enough for our limitations, we get to keep them and they become our reality. Not because the limitations are truth, but because we made them true by accepting them.
3. Know your tasks and let others tend to theirs
Described as Separation of Tasks, knowing what is our individual responsibility and what are the responsibilities of others not only will alleviate and remove much stress and worry, it will also improve our interpersonal relationships. In The Courage to Be Disliked, they use the example of a romantic partnership:
“You believe in your partner; that is your task. But how that person acts with regard to your expectations and trust is other people’s tasks . . . intervening in other people’s tasks and taking on other people’s tasks turns one’s life into something heavy and full of hardship.”
In other words, knowing the boundaries of what is your task and what is the task of others will eliminate unnecessary worry and suffering, and it will also make life, as the book describes, far more simple and enjoyable to live.
4. Let go of the outcome
The Alderian psychology way is to not cure the symptoms regarding when one exhibits a lack of self-confidence – what happened in the past, not dwelling on what brought you to this point – but rather accept yourself as you are now and find the courage to step forward letting go of the outcome which is what causes the fear. We are fearful because we don’t know how it will all work out.
5. Find what you can positively contribute to the greater world and the need to be ‘accepted’ or ‘liked’ subsides
“If you change your lifestyle—the way of giving meaning to the world and yourself—then both your way of interacting with the world and your behavior will have to change as well. Do not forget this point: One will have to change. You, just as you are, have to choose your lifestyle. It might seem hard, but it is really quite simple.”
“A way of living in which one is constantly troubled by how one is seen by others is a self-centered lifestyle in which one’s sole concern is with the ‘I’.” The paradoxical truth reveals the freedom we can each attain when we let go of worrying about others liking us and instead focus on how to contribute well to the world. True contentment is found not by applause and approval from the outside world, but when we begin to look within and discover what we can uniquely give to the world which is a positive contribution. A positive contribution can be as simple as being a civil citizen of the world – obliging the city ordinance to shovel your sidewalk when it snows or stopping for pedestrians to cross the road. More grandly, it could be to dedicate your expertise and knowledge to develop a vaccine to curb the rise of a deadly virus.
All along the spectrum, each of us hold gifts in which we can contribute positively to the community outside of us which leads us away from being solely concerned with the “I”.
6. Reflect on your comments and/or judgments of others to discover your own truth
“An adult, who has chosen an unfree way to live [i.e. living for the approval of the outside world], on seeing a young person [or any person for that matter] living freely here and now in this moment, criticizes the young as being hedonistic. Of course, this is a life-lie that comes out so that the adult can accept his own unfree life. An adult who has chosen real freedom himself will not make such comments and will instead cheer on the will to be free.”
A quick refresher, if we are judging, we are taking on someone else’s task, so to begin with, let go of the judging; however, for the sake of this lesson which the book includes to further the need to separate tasks, I find it helpful to remind us when others’ words or opinions sting or wound us, what they are sharing has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with their life journey.
I recently had a neighbor make a snide and negative comment about my enthusiasm over the growth of my lettuce. Instinctively, it hurt my feelings, but then I realized, their inability to be able to celebrate with someone else in their joy reflected their own pain in their life at the moment in which life wasn’t going so well and feels out of their control to solve it.
When we tend to our tasks and let go of others, we set ourselves free in more ways than we can initially imagine possible. As we continue to put the practice of separation of tasks into our lives, we eliminate so many instances of pain and hurt we will never have to know, and that is part of living truly free.
7. Don’t be afraid of being disliked
“I am not telling you to go so far as to live in such a way that you will be disliked, and I am not saying engage in wrongdoing. Please do not misunderstand . . . One just separates tasks. There may be a person who does not think well of you, but that is not your task . . . one moves forward without fearing the possibility of being disliked . . . before being concerned with what others think of me, I want to follow through with my own being. That is to say, I want to live in freedom.”
While it takes more than a couple of chapters for the separation of tasks to be fully explained in terms the young man understand, ultimately, being able to separate properly leads to the ability to let go of what others think of us, leading us to be free to be our true selves.
Again, being free does not mean causing others pain or directly doing something to be disliked – such choices would not be tapping into what you can uniquely give to the world to contribute positively.
The hard work, the courageous work, is to fully explore your own inner being, become resistant to those who try to pull you back to following what the masses and crowds are doing and instead continue to unearth the gifts you have always had within you. The world needs you to find those gifts even though you and the world may not know exactly what you will find, but so long as it contributes positively to society, you must keep searching.
Some readers may challenge the definition of ‘positive’ as it is a subjective term, an abstract concept. True, however, I take the perspective that we desire to live in a world that honors humanity, celebrates kindness and wishes to uphold a civil society. When we acknowledge what is possible through understanding of the mind through the social sciences of sociology and psychology as well as neurology, we discover amazing truths about the motivations of human beings. All of this is to say, it takes time and intentional living to learn and apply, explore and observe, and then to be courageous in its application in our individual lives because our only task is to journey within and let others do the same. We must let go of the outside world and take responsibility for what our unique contribution can be in not only our larger life journey but in our everyday lives.
Reading and then understanding the contents of The Courage to Be Disliked requires close reading and rereading. Philosophy, literally composed of the words love “phil” and wisdom “soph” means to love wisdom, and a deep understanding of wisdom requires more than concrete surface simplicities. Any philosophical reading requires we go deeper, not only in the reading itself, but into our own mind. Growth is hard and it can be uncomfortable temporarily as we stretch ourselves, but the more we grow, the more we regularly stretch ourselves, our reach, in other words our understanding deepens as well and our ability to apply what we have learned to our lives more likely to stick and change our lives moving forward.
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