seeing connections

Taking notes on what I read has lead me to make connections between things at a far greater rate than before.

As a part of Radreads’ inaugural bookclub, I’ve been reading The Courage To Be Disliked, a dive into Adlerian psychology and how to free yourself from the expectations of others.

The book is structured as a conversation between a young man struggling to make his way in the world and an old philosopher who educates him in the teaching of Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler.

I don’t have time, space or enough credit with you to go into all of the ramifications of Adler’s Individual Psychology - I’ll quickly state that he believed in the indivisible whole of human beings, not only in and of themselves but also being at one with their environment.

Indeed, one of the later takeaways in the book is the need for community being an essential part of the human condition, even as we should strive to not be beholden to the opinions of others.

First, there are two objectives for behaviour: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. Then, the objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviours are the consciousness that I have the ability and the consciousness that people are my comrades.

He calls this the ‘separation of tasks’ and outlines a myriad of ways in which we foist our needs, desires and points of view on others.

Parents may find his views on praise and punishment somewhat annoying, depending on their own approach!

My point is that I read an article on Hector Bellerin this morning, a varied and admirable young man who’s had to cast off the expectations of others in order to find his own happiness in the harsh world of professional football.

Football, like most other professional sports, collectivises the athletes and makes them adhere to a team structure. This is ostensibly for the benefit of the group; in order to perform, the team must both harness and promote the differing individual qualities of the players, both enabling them to cover each others’ shortcomings and promote their best qualities in order to achieve something beyond the reach of the individual.

The trouble is, and you can see this in the stream of mental health pieces that are coming out, it’s no longer acceptable for the players to ‘shut up and dribble’, to completely sublimate themselves in service of the team and the crowd - people demand to know more and more about them even as they then castigate them for what they reveal.

If the main point of your job turns out to be satisfying other people’s expectations, then that job is going to be very hard on you. Because you’ll always be worried about other people looking at you and fear their judgement, and you are repressing your ‘I-ness’.

The modern player is between a rock and a hard place - express themselves too honestly or prove to be too different and there have never been more platforms for them to receive abuse for their choices. Say nothing and they’re portrayed as taciturn and arrogant and potentially, less employable by clubs and organisations who want players with a brand to enhance their own.

Not a threatening brand, not a brand that’s too out there, but a hint of personality.

Bellerin’s expression of his personality led to abuse that he found difficult to deal with. Football’s slightly dinosaur culture of masculinity regards Bellerin’s interests in fashion, veganism and environmentalism suspicious and there’s the undoubted attitude that a ‘real man’ would ‘get stuck in’, focus on the game.’

Despite the players hailing from all over the globe, the narratives and stadiums aren’t exactly too tolerant of difference, as evidenced by racial abuse being somehow still a thing that happens. I’m consistently amazed how Paul Pogba is regarded as somehow lazy and underachieving despite his extraordinary output in what is a mediocre Manchester United team; his extroverted personal brand and perhaps most sadly, his race, probably have something to do with it.

Back to Bellerin:

‘When I first started using social media and people were talking about me, I used to take it a lot to heart. And then I realised that I was living more their life more than I was living mine. And I said ‘you know what, let me just do me.’’

This is the separation of tasks. Bellerin has realised that other people's opinion of him is not his problem. His opinion of himself and what he believes is. So he’s gone about it in a mature and even delightful manner, speaking at the Oxford Union and attending fashion shows on the one hand to supporting charitable endeavours around sexuality and climate change and meeting young fans on the other.

Some of the quotes from the Courage To Be Disliked remind me of JG Ballard’s quotes on social media:

Every home will be transformed into its own TV studio. We'll all be simultaneously actor, director and screenwriter in our own soap opera. People will start screening themselves. They will become their own TV programmes.

Footballers live this subjective life twice. Once through their phones and their ‘brand’ and again in their experience of the world where many of the biggest stars struggle to leave the house.

Neymar comes to mind here, a young man who sequesters himself away with a court of friends and staff who cater to him. This isn’t necessarily his fault but living in the world has become impossible for him and he’s found that the world, in many cases, finds him objectionable.

Adler says, ‘To get rid of one’s problems, all one can do is live in the universe all alone.’ But one can’t do such a thing.

You can create a subjective reality for yourself where you never leave the house, never hear a sharp tongue or a dissenting opinion, but this isn’t living. Adler says, and it’s perhaps even more true now that we live in the social media age, that we all create our own subjective reality whenever we experience anything.

None of us live in an objective world, but instead in a subjective world that we ourselves have given meaning to. The world you see is different from the one I see, and it’s impossible to share your world with anyone else.

You can’t do anything apart from tend to the garden of your own reality and invite people in to join you.

Their experience of it and of you are not your problem.

How you experience life and your interactions with your community are your tasks.

Hector Bellerin would say to get on with them.