“The Courage to Be Disliked,”* an extended Socratic discussion involving a youth and a philosopher, makes frequent uses of analogies as the Philosopher make his compelling points. One such analogy is that of the stone. The Philosopher explains:
Not wanting to be disliked by other people. To human beings, this is an entirely natural desire, and an impulse. […]
Now, if one were to say that living like a stone tumbling downhill and allowing such inclinations or desires to impulses to take on wherever they will is “freedom,” one would be incorrect. To live in such a way is only to be a slave to one’s desires and impulses. Real freedom is an attitude akin to pushing up one’s tumbling self from below.[…]
A stone is powerless. One it has begun to roll downhill, it will continue to roll until released from the natural laws of gravity and inertia. But we are not stones. We are beings who are capable of resisting inclination. We can stop our tumbling selves and climb uphill. The desire for recognition is probably a natural desire. So are you going to keep rolling downhill in order to receive recognition from others? Are you going to wear yourself down like a rolling stone, until everything is smoothed away? When all that is left is a little round ball, would that be “the real I”? It cannot be.The Courage to Be Disliked, p143
It seems to me that the Philosopher is saying that while our natural desire is to be liked by others and receive recognition–like the stone succumbing to gravity–we are capable of “pushing up” ourselves up the hill, that is, resisting defining ourselves by whether others like us or not.
I love this analogy. The effort required to push the stone up the hill could be compared to being disciplined in our thoughts. Today I was meeting a friend at the cafe. As he was talking, I found myself getting distracted by the guy talking loudly next to us. I admit it. At first, I was kind of annoyed. It was a an effort to listen to my friend. The other guy’s voice was just louder. I had to concentrate to take in what my friend was saying.
As a musician, I am very used to this kind of auditory focus and am quite good at it. But I didn’t really like having to make effort to listen to my friend. Fortunately, I made a decision to be okay with the situation. We were in a chatty cafe environment late morning. I could either get upset about the loud guy next to us or I could just focus on my friend, even if it was an effort.
I was glad I decided to make the best of things. Eventually the loud guy got up and left. We had an excellent conversation. Whether or not the book is talking about this, it reminds me of the stone. Just like going uphill, it can take effort to be happy, to focus on what we want (in this case listening to my friend) and to ignore what we don’t want (in this case the guy next to us).
There’s a key here. If you want to be in a state of happiness and appreciation, it is important to reach for that appreciation despite what is going on around you (when it is not to your liking). After all, the world is not here merely to make us happy. People are just doing their thing.
If we let them off the hook for this, if we keep focusing on being in a good state of mind, others around probably will respond well to us. But that’s not the point. To use the analogy again, the point is to lifting ourselves up the hill regardless.
By taking charge of our own happiness, we set ourselves up for happiness.
No one said it wasn’t an effort.