This reading group guide for The Courage to Be Disliked includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction The Courage to Be Disliked
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follows a conversation between a young man and a philosopher as they discuss the tenets of Alfred Adler’s theories. Alder, a lesser-known twentieth-century psychologist whose work stands up to Freud and Jung, believes in a liberating approach to happiness in which each human being has the power and potential to live a happy and fulfilled life without worry about the past or future. Their dialogue spans five nights, and the reader is invited to journey alongside the youth as he grapples with, fights against, and is ultimately moved by the profundity of Alder’s wisdom.Topics & Questions for Discussion
The First Night: Deny Trauma
1. Like the youth, do you feel determined from the outset to reject the philosopher’s theories? Why might that be?
2. “Everyone wishes they could change,” the youth says on page 8. Do you agree? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
3. What “equipment” do you possess? Assess how successfully, on a scale from 1–10, you are using your equipment to bring happiness to your life in this moment?
The Second Night: All Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems
4. Do you find it comforting to hear that it is “basically impossible to not get hurt in your relations with other people” (page 51)? Why or why not?
5. Describe a time when your own feeling of inferiority acted as a kind of launchpad to change or move forward in your life.
6. Do you agree that love is the most difficult life-task? Why do you think so?
The Third Night: Discard Other People’s Tasks
7. Answer the philosopher’s question: why does one want to be praised by others? (page 116)
8. The philosopher offers the following definition of freedom on page 144: “freedom is being disliked by other people.” How would you define freedom?
9. Do you have the courage to be disliked? Or do you know anyone in your life who seems to? If so, do their relationships or yours seem “things of lightness” (page 146) as the philosopher suggests?
The Fourth Night: Where the Center of the World Is
10. From where in your life do you derive a sense of community feeling?
11. Is your life worth living because you are of use to someone? Consider how we manifest this worth—think of the jobs we take, the places we chose to live, or the experiences we accept or decline.
12. The philosopher offers the youth the same advice Adler offered once: “someone has to start” (page 194). That is, to create a meaningful life, a sense of community, it must begin with you regardless of what others around you are doing. How practical do you find this advice? What are concrete ways you might begin to “start”?
The Fifth Night: To Live in Earnest in the Here and Now
13. Were you surprised, comforted, and/or fascinated to read that “there is no such thing as a 100 percent person” (page 210)? How can you actively acknowledge this fact to yourself, as the philosopher suggests?
14. Labor is one way we come to feel useful and worthwhile, and therefore happy. What aspects of your work give you a sense of fulfillment? Do some aspects of your labor detract from your happiness?
15. Share how you plan to cast a spotlight on the here and now. What sort of action plan can you make to focus on living in the present moment?Enhance Your Book Club
1. The Courage to be Disliked
is a book that instructs readers how to have the courage to live a happy, authentic life. All of the advice of the philosopher hinges on retraining your mind to accept yourself as you are, and in turn to accept others as they are. In order to help declutter your mind, spend some time in meditation with your book club. Turn the lights down and sit in a circle. Together, practice relaxation techniques, including breathing in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. Visualize your entire body filling with air and then emptying out completely. In the background, play some relaxing music or ocean sounds. Feel yourself relax and prepare to discuss the concepts you find most challenging in the book.
2. The structure of The Courage to be Disliked
is inspired by Socratic dialogue, a literary genre derived from Plato’s dialogues in which Socrates is a main character who, through conversation, seeks to answer questions on the meaning of life. Participate in your own version of this ancient quest for discovering truth. Have your book club perform a Socratic circle. Come up with a list of a few questions you’d like to discuss and prepare responses individually. Once your group meets, form an inner circle and an outer circle. The inner circle will do the discussing, while the outer circle will watch, listen, and take notes. Over lunch, discuss how the circle felt different from your regular book club meeting. Did the tone of the conversation change?
Rules for a Socratic circle can be found here: http://www.corndancer.com/tunes/tunes_print/soccirc.pdf
3. Go on a nature walk with your book club. Notice everything around you using your five senses—what do you hear? Smell? See? Taste? How do you feel in this moment? Are you happy? Collect as much “data” on your walk as possible, feeling the ground underneath you, the air around you, the sky overhead. In essence, “shine a spotlight on the here and now . . . earnestly and conscientiously” (page 254). Once the walk is complete, reconvene with your book club and exchange notes about the experience. What was it like to live in the moment? Was it a new experience for you, or something you try often? Were you successful at shutting out the past and/or future? Why or why not?