Advice from Adler

“The courage to be happy” from Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga sounds like a particularly annoying self-help book. Parts of it must indeed be described as superficial feelgoodery, but there are solid psychological insights and even somewhat practical advice based on Alfred Adler’s Individualpsychologie.

Unconditional respect
“How is it that despite my best efforts as a teacher, my students barely ever listen? I want the best for them, but they thank me by playing up or tuning out. I’ve tried to ignore their nastiness, and I’ve tried strict punishments, yet nothing seems to work.” It was desperation and resentment that brought the teacher to seek out that old philosopher once more - his earlier advice had failed, and he needed to let him know.

“You do not respect them, not really. They sense that and hence every word you speak is wasted”, replies the philosopher. “You have no concerns for their wants, for who they are, so how can you expect to get through to them? If you want to teach them what you care about, you need to start by understanding their wants. If you want them to respect you, you start by respecting them.”

“Do you know the goal of education?”, asks the philosopher. “It is self-reliance” - “That’s right. It is important to note that reward and punishment, two very commonly employed tactics in education, interfere with this goal. Punishment can break a person’s self confidence, or it can lead to resistance, resentment and rebellion and poison the relationship between teacher and student. Praise may work in the short term, but it hollows out the intrinsic motivation of the student, and encourages them to compete ever more recklessly for approval. Instead of administering control through punishment and praise, teacher and parents should encourage children to make their own decisions, and learn from the consequences. As children grow up, they should be able to develop the consciousness that I have the ability.”

The philosopher continues: “Now, being self-reliant is not possible in isolation. In order to become self-reliant, we need to learn human knowledge. More specifically, we need to know how to place ourselves in a community, how to live and interact with others. Ultimately, we need to learn how to live in harmony with society, which is facilitated by the consciousness that people are my comrades. Being surrounded by other kids in school is the way more important for the development of a child, than the scholastic knowledge acquired during the lessons.”

Separation of tasks
The teacher nods: “I see. All of this is related to the concept of separation of tasks. Essentially, the person who has to bear the consequences by a choice is responsible for making that choice. The student has to live with whatever he learned at school, so he must make the choice of engaging with the material or not.” - “Precisely. The same is true, for example, whether your boss, your neighbour, or a girl you chat up likes you or not. You can influence the outcome of an interaction to some extent, but it is not under your control. Remember this: You are not living to satisfy other people’s expectations. But likewise: Other people are not living to satisfy your expectations.”

The art of loving
“So what should I do?”, asks the teacher. “You focus on the three life tasks: Work, friendships, and love. Find a vocation that aligns with your abilities, interests and values. Being successful at work will give you a sense of contribution and self-esteem. Connect with people, build social relationships and integrate yourself into a community. To be successful in the social task, you need to give freely - even before you know whether you will gain something in return. This is the critical difference between the work and the social task.”

“And what about love?” - “Ah, love. This is where it all comes together. Firstly, forget about falling in love. Anyone can fall in love, but this is not what I am talking about. Proper love is built, not fallen into. Loving means, holding the us higher than the me or the you. When one loves properly, the subject of life changes from me to us. The me vanishes into nothingness.” - “Into nothingness?” - “Yes. Love is liberation from the me. It is making peace with the world. It is breaking away from self-centredness, breaking away from the pampered childhood lifestyle of the world revolving around myself. Feeling the us with your woman may eventually allow you to feel that the us expands to your family, to your community, you experience community feeling.

“That sounds fantastic. But how do I find a woman I can love?”, the teacher finally asks. “You probably came across many already. But you were afraid of loving.” - “Surely I should wait for my soulmate.” - “You are afraid of getting hurt. You want to wait for someone who you are sure will love you back. You are protecting yourself, because you couldn’t take the rejection. Because deep down you do not love yourself yet. You may even think that there couldn’t be anyone who would love you.” - “This is rude!” - “Focus on the separation of tasks. Loving is your task. How the woman responds, is her task. Love first. Create your destiny. Don’t seek your destined soulmate, build a relationship that you can refer to as destined.”