I’ve been reading The Courage to Be Disliked (in addition to about four other books) while feeding and hanging out with the baby. The book is basically about the fundamentals of Adlerian psychology, a kind of Stoic approach to the difficulties of life that I find valuable, if not always actionable. Yesterday I came upon the passage that speaks to the title itself. The book is structured as a Socratic dialogue.
PHILOSOPHER: “What is freedom?” should be clear.
YOUTH: What is it?
PHILOSOPHER: In short, that “freedom is being disliked by other people.”
YOUTH: Huh? What was that?
PHILOSOPHER: It’s that you are disliked by someone. It is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom, and a sign that you are living in accordance with your own principles.
YOUTH: But, but . . .
PHILOSOPHER: It is certainly distressful to be disliked. If possible, one would like to live without being disliked by anyone. One wants to satisfy one’s desire for recognition. But conducting oneself in such a way as to not be disliked by anyone is an extremely unfree way of living, and is also impossible. There is a cost incurred when one wants to exercise one’s freedom. And the cost of freedom in interpersonal relationships is that one is disliked by other people.
YOUTH: No! That’s totally wrong. There is no way that could be called freedom. That’s a diabolical way of thinking to coax one into evildoing.
PHILOSOPHER: You’ve probably been thinking of freedom as “release from organizations.” That breaking away from your home or school, your company or your nation is freedom. However, if you were to break away from your organization, for instance, you would not be able to gain real freedom. Unless one is unconcerned by other people’s judgments, has no fear of being disliked by other people, and pays the cost that one might never be recognized, one will never be able to follow through in one’s own way of living. That is to say, one will not be able to be free.
YOUTH: Be disliked by other people—is that what you are saying?
PHILOSOPHER: What I am saying is, don’t be afraid of being disliked.
YOUTH: But that’s—
PHILOSOPHER: 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 that.
That struck me as a very powerful sentiment. Hear what’s being said here: being disliked is not a consequence of freedom. Being disliked is freedom.
The idea is that if you are widely lauded and loved, you will feel somehow beholden to the people who laud and love you. The book gets a little tricky with some of the implications of thinking in this way. For example, the youth actually brings up a perfectly valid point: that one might act in such a way to be disliked specifically to be free. The book doesn’t do a great job of refuting these things, other than to have the philosopher say “nah.”
But let’s say you weren’t going to read this in the most disingenuous way possible. Let’s say you adopted it as a little maxim that, if it ever bumped up against your principles, the principles would win out. Overall…I’d say there’s wisdom there.