Skip to content

Find freedom in being disliked

If you try to keep everyone happy, you’ll chase what you think people want rather than what’s true.

Cory Zanoni
Cory Zanoni
3 min read
A still from The Simpsons, featuring a prison with a revolving door – people walk in and immediately find freedom.

Table of Contents

I spent the first three years of my career being called a Nazi, a fascist and, at times, fictional. All because my job was to moderate comments on a news website.

It was a tough gig for a lot of reasons, but here’s a major one: I needed to accept that there was a narrow collection of people I could – and need to – make happy.

There was a collection of people who would never be happy that we’d remove comments. Some people accepted (and even appreciated) that some comments would be removed but disagreed with my way of doing it. And some people just resented our website’s existence and used my job as a punching page.

Unfortunately, all of those people loved emailing me. (They often used a lot of different fonts, text sizes and colours.)

The people I needed to make happy didn’t talk to me much. But they’re the people I needed to focus on.

Letting go of other’s opinions

Here’s a challenging part of making anything: you can’t make something people can love without being okay with some people hating it. If you try to keep everyone happy, you’ll chase what you think people want rather than what’s true.

This applies to more than just creativity: it’s true for life in general.

In his book about interpersonal relationships The courage to be disliked, philosopher and psychologist Ichiro Kishimi argues that part of finding freedom is accepting that some people will dislike you no matter what you do. Accepting that – and truly believing that – frees you from the pressure of living according to other people’s expectations. It helps you live according to your principles.

Kishimi explains that one of the challenges of all interpersonal relationships is understanding what things are your responsibility and what things are someone else’s. Interfering with someone else’s tasks, he says, is one of the key sources of trouble between people.

That applies to being disliked too.

Not wanting to be disliked is one thing, according to Kishimi. Your behaviour is your responsibility. Whether or not someone does dislike you, however, is their deal. And you only have so much sway over that.

This isn’t an excuse to be an asshole

Let’s make something clear, though. Accepting that some people will dislike you – and being okay with that – isn’t an excuse to be an asshole.

It’s not about trying to be disliked. And it’s not about opting out of your responsibilities to the world at large.

The Dalai Lama speaks to the value of fostering a sense of morality based on helping others in How to practice, his book about living an enriching life. This, he argues, is a key part of a well-lived life. It’s part of love.

Accepting that people can (and will) dislike you doesn’t change that. And trying to do well by people won’t stop some people from hating you (see: the Chinese government’s view of the Dalai Lama).

You just need to do what you believe is right and accept what comes from it.

Stay flexy

Accepting this reality opens up options. No longer preempting what other people will think about you, you’re free to respond to interactions with spontaneity and honesty.

That helps you stay flexible. As we’ve spoken about before, you’re a new person every time you meet someone new:

Every time you meet someone new, or enter into a new situation, you can become a different version of yourself. You’re constantly redefining yourself, bringing everything that came before to a new place and shaping it (or abandoning it) anew.

That’s magical (and exhausting).

As Kae Tempest argues in On connection, their book about relationships and identity, people change in different encounters. We’re always collaborating with, or acting in opposition to, new situations.

The Dalai Lama touches on this in How to practice as well. He argues that our present situations are the result of past decisions and interactions with others. That means our present circumstances are due, in part, to the histories of the people you’ve come into contact with.

That doesn’t mean we’re locked to our pasts, however; it acknowledges our innate state of change.

But we only have so much influence over how people react to you: they’re bringing a whole lot of history to their take on the world, and their reaction to you in any given moment.

Maybe that history will tilt their judgment against you. That’s cool. Let them call you a fascist. You’ve got better things to worry about anyway.

Cory Zanoni Twitter

Writer, teacher, tired.