When I was growing up I had a lot to do with the Asian community in Sydney because my dad had a providore business at Sydney’s Central Markets. He supplied cafes, restaurants, clubs and coffee shops with fruit and vegetables and he had many Chinese suppliers of fruit and vegetables. These products were their patch.
Socially my most regular brush with Asia was going to Mr Chow’s at Maroubra Junction or the Sun Kwong at Bondi Junction on Saturday nights with my parents. Later a cousin of mine married a Chinese guy who was a technical producer at the ABC — Samuel Chung — and so we became a multi-racial family. We went one step further when my uncle Doug married a blind Italian girl — Sue — making them not only another multi-racial addition to our extended family, but an exceptional blind couple, who showed me that handicaps should never stand in the way of you wanting a normal life of a job, home ownership and living independently, even if you are both blind.
And they were one of the happiest couples I’ve ever met!
Of course our brush with Asia is unbelievable now, though I should not be surprised given I taught economics at the University of New South Wales, which became like a honey pot to bees for Asian students in the 1980s.
I was always fascinated by how scrupulous they were with their note-taking. They would even note my jokes but they never seemed to get them! I once said to one tutorial group, in exasperation after telling a great economics joke — yes that’s possible — that they would never be invited to my debut as a comedian.
They actually wrote that down!
Anyway this has been a long way into my story of how the very gracious and accommodating oriental gentleman and lady of old world Asia was seen. However, this has been replaced by a new face of Asia, which is a whole lot tougher than the old face seemingly was.
In recent times we have been introduced to the ‘tiger mums’ who tigerishly force their kids into extra classes with tutors to make them better at school.
And recently I’ve heard of a book emanating out of Asia, or Japan to be precise, which continues this apparent new age theme of ‘tough love’ Asian-style, which actually might help me, and others out there, who suffer from being too nice!
The book, which promises to give you enduring happiness, is called The Courage to be Disliked! (That’s my exclamation mark, not the work of the Japanese authors Fumitake Koga and philosopher Ichiro Kishimi.)
Unbeknownst to me, but regularly pointed out by wife and children, is that I’m too nice and have not stepped up to tell people what is what. As a consequence, others have had to do it and so they become known as the hard arses and I’m seen as the good guy. Being nice has been equated to being chicken-hearted!
Of course, this niceness does not last forever, and so when someone stretches my tolerance too far I then react like Hulk Hogan metering out the kind of punishment you’d expect from a hells angel.
I have to confess that I did play rugby league up until the age of 20, and represented the Roosters from ages 11 to 20, so I have butted heads with some of the meanest men this country has produced. That said, I’ve always found physical aggression easier than the mental battle.
And that’s why I was drawn to the book The Courage to be Disliked.
This book is a huge seller in Japan and Asia with sales of over 3 million, so there must be a lot of me-types out there in need of inspiration to get ugly to our fellow men and women!
Olivia Goldhill, writing for Quartzy, said it was “empowering perspective on how to brush off social pressures and trust in your innate self-worth to find happiness. It was even made into a TV show featuring a detective—an unmarried woman in her 30s in a male-dominated field—who lives according to the lessons of the book.”
Only the Japanese would have the guts to try this on TV!
Reviewers make it clear that this book is not a typical US-style self-help book of the “I’m OK, You’re OK” genre. Nope, our Japanese friends have looked at the work of a 19th century Austrian psychologist, Alfred Adler and the book uses the Socratic method of questioning between a youth and a philosopher/teacher.
This is not bedside reading when you are tired or you’re lazily sunbaking in the island of Greece after an exhausting year. A mate of mine pulled out a copy of Buddhism for Busy People when we were in Greece and he did not get past the first page as he was always sleeping.
A big take out from The Courage to be Disliked, that many reviewers have cited, is that we create a lot of our problems, to put it bluntly.
"We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the so-called trauma—but instead we make out of them whatever suits our purposes,” Adler says. “We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining."
A lot of shrinks would take issue with that one from Adler and his disciples. The old Austrian won’t tolerate excuses in his theory of how the brain works. He argued that perspective, every flaw, misery, and complaint is intentionally created by the person suffering from it.
The bottom line message is that the student — us — should not act in a nasty way or distance himself from others, but should, rather, have the courage to be disliked—which will lead to happiness.
A good example of what we do to cope with our crazily-created world is summed up in one of the stories in the book, featuring someone who wants to be a successful writer but who says they don’t have the time to write it. To that the teacher insists that the would-be writer uses time as an excuse.
“We can all be happy if we so choose, says the philosopher, and so those who are not have chosen not to be,” Goldhill writes. “People with social anxiety intentionally create such emotions to avoid close relationships with people, and those who suffer from self-hatred—such as the youth in The Courage to be Disliked—find fault with themselves so as to avoid rejection.”
Adler concluded all problems are interpersonal so a world without people means no problems, though it could mean that you could only blame God for not giving you others to blame for your problems.
One of the best pieces of advice from the book was this one: “If someone decides to dislike you, that’s their business, explains the The Courage to be Disliked’s philosopher, rather than yours. As such, you need to have the courage to form close relationships knowing that perhaps, yes, you could be rejected.”
The great author William Faulkner who wrote The Sound and the Fury once told us: “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth.”
I’m not sure if I’m ready to tell it as it is to everyone face to face, but I reckon after exposing myself to the The Courage to be Disliked, I will at least be using the chicken’s course to courage — email — to at least honestly say what I actually think.
That said, I will be forcing myself to be more courageous and honest. So friends, family and work buddies better get braced for a more frank P. Switzer and it damn well better deliver the happiness Adler and his Japanese buddies have been promising.
Or they will hear it from me!