Despite my general resistance against popular books of psychology, especially those that fall in the self-help genre, I decided to read the two books by Kishimi and Koga, beginning with the first, The Courage to Be Disliked. I reviewed the two books separately, and in each case, I began with what I liked about the book before moving into criticism.
To my surprise, I found The Courage to Be Dislike to be well-written and engaging. The book consists of a series of five dialogues between a young man and an old philosopher, who together examine the topic of the good life. The philosopher offers useful and counter-intuitive insights regarding trauma, emotions, and human relationships. He promotes psychological toughness, while remaining reasonable and sensitive to the young man’s counterarguments.
Unfortunately, the book fails to offer its insights as additional (and possible) ways of interpreting experience, and offers them as the only way to view experience. This is something that the careful reader can notice and overcome. Rather than reading “it is B, not A”, we could read between the lines: in addition to A, it could be B, depending on the situation at hand.
While I’d recommend The Courage to Be Disliked, especially to readers without much prior background in psychology, I couldn’t endorse the second book with the same degree of confidence.
In The Courage to be Happy, the character of the young man is created in a sloppy manner. He is designed to do too many things. Having become a mouthpiece for a wide range of concerns and viewpoints, the character has lost his coherence. He is no longer a character. Despite the fact that the two characters are fictional, there should be some realness and believability to them. The creation of fictional character is successful when we are not frequently reminded of the fact that they are fictional.
A more important source of dissatisfaction with the books, especially the second book, has to do with the way the authors handle the topic of self-reliance. They encourage us to cultivate the ability to rely on our own judgment, as opposed to relying on other people’s judgments. But they neither elaborate on why that is necessary nor on how it is practiced. Why should you choose your viewpoint over mine? If you and I aren’t essentially different from each other, if you’re a person, and I am a person, it seems arbitrary to choose any of the two and trust their opinion over the other.
To resolve this puzzle, the authors should have distinguished between the process or method of forming judgments, on one hand, and the judgments, on the other hand. It’s neither you nor I that should be the ultimate judge. Instead, we should both pursue the correct judgment (which entails pursuing the correct method of arriving at our judgments). By doing so, we can move beyond the arbitrary selection of one person’s opinion over the opinions of others. Being dogmatic is wrong, even if it is a dogmatic attachment to one’s own opinions. But could the authors accomplish this task and retain the relationship they had to (the authority of) Alfred Adler? I don’t think they could, which is why I don’t think the mishandling of the topic of self-reliance was an accident.
If you’re curious about the books, I’d suggest trying the first book, but I consider neither of the two a must-read for serious students of psychology. In both of my video reviews (toward the end of each video) I have included a list of suggested readings, in case you’re interested in exploring the topics of these books further.