Social interest is the inevitable compensation for all the natural weaknesses of human beings. Social interest is a way of life; it is an optimistic feeling of confidence in oneself, and a genuine interest in the welfare and well-being of others. The human being is clearly a social being, needing a much longer period of dependence upon others before maturity than any animal. As long as the feeling of inferiority is not too great, a person will always strive to be worthwhile and on the useful side of life, because this gives him the feeling of being valuable which originates from contribution to the common welfare.
The child soon learns that his aims and goals in life are not attained without movement, striving and effort. Thus in order to reach fulfillment, the child adopts a strategy. Inferiority feelings influence the adoption of misguided and limiting safe solutions as survival strategies. The child's attitude towards the problems of life is governed by this early 'life script'. The preliminary social problems met in childhood (friendships, schooling and relationship to the other sex) provide tests of the individual's preparation for social living, and these may reinforce the life script or cause it to be adjusted in positive or negative directions.
The social problems of adulthood are the realities of friendship, comradeship and social contact; those of one's occupation or profession; and those of love and marriage. It is failure to face and meet them directly which results in neurosis, and perhaps in mental ill-health (which has been defined in simple terms as: madness, badness and sadness). It has been well said that the neurotic turns half-away from life, while the insane person turns his back on it; it may be added that those possessed of sufficient social courage face it!
Happiness in life depends to a considerable extent on the degree of social interest and ability to co-operate which the child has developed, with the help and encouragement of his parents and teachers. Successful men and woman are those who have learned the art of cooperation, and who face life with that attitude - an attitude born of courage and self-confidence. Such a person faces difficulties head- on, but is not plunged into despondency and despair by defeat or failure. His life- style is characterized by an easy approach to life, the absence of over-anxiety and a friendly tolerance towards his fellows. The need to escape into neurosis is very small.
There is only one reason for a person to side-step to the useless side: the fear of defeat on the useful side - his flight from the solution of one of the social problems of life. If the person is unprepared for social living he will not continue his path to self-actualisation on the socially useful side; instead of confronting his problems he will try to gain distance from them. Those who fail socially in life are not ready to co-operate; they are too self-centered - they think always of themselves, and they do so because they lack confidence and courage - in other words, they are afraid of life. Such individuals do not feel able or prepared to deal with their problems. Because of a sense of inadequacy and inferiority they lead unhappy, incomplete, frustrated and unsatisfactory lives. Fear, then, is at the root of all such misery in life.
The seeking of distance from problems (through hesitating, halting and detouring) at various stages of life and in the face of social problems, results in striving directed at exaggerated private goals of personal superiority, to make up for the felt inferiority. Artists provide a compensatory function for society by illustrating for us in their fiction how to see, feel and think in the face of the problems of life, and how to turn from denial to face challenges anew, in order to eventually succeed. The neurotic aims for a goal of personal superiority, without handling the upsets of his work, his home life and his various personal relationships. Such neurosis is sustained by misunderstandings acquired by assimilation, particularly during the first 5 years, but also through the many ways that misguided ideas can be identified with throughout one's development. The fixity of such ideas may result in a refusal to observe objectively in the present time - which is the only way to solve life's problems in an open-minded manner and succeed in a socially beneficial way.
Neurotics, psychotics, criminals, alcoholics, vandals, prostitutes, drug addicts, perverts, etc are lacking in social interest. They approach the problems of occupation, friendships and sex without the confidence that they can be solved by cooperation. Their interest stops short at their own persons - their idea of success in life is self-centered, and their triumphs have meaning only to themselves.
Reasoning which has general validity is intelligence that is connected with social interest. Whereas isolated private intelligence may seem 'clever' to the individual concerned but conflicts with social needs and therefore is of little value. In the case of a neurotic failure in life, his reasoning may be 'intelligent' within his own frame of reference, but is nevertheless socially insane. For example, a thief said: "The young man had plenty of money and I had none; therefore I took it". Since this criminal does not think himself capable of acquiring money in the normal manner, in the socially useful way, there is actually nothing left for him but robbery. So the criminal approaches his goal through his own kind of 'intelligent' argument: a private, negative kind of intelligence, that does not include social interest or responsibility.
Negative intelligence includes all the distortions of analytical thinking that may occur, such as justifications, excuses, rationalizations, generalizations - all ways to be 'right', to provide a safe solution. In each case, there is a failure to observe, a refusal to notice. The goal of striving for self-expression has been misdirected to a goal for personal superiority. They may be correctly co-ordinated in a frame of reference on the useless side of life, but the person lacks the courage and the interest that is necessary for the socially useful solution of the problems of life.
True intelligence is IQ multiplied by the degree of social involvement in life (through sex, family, work, play, education and all kinds of local, national and international groupings and involvements) which in turn requires personal stability and social skills, the facets of emotional intelligence. When the individual's interest is too self-centered, he feels that he is socially impotent or a nobody; he feels alienated from his fellow man. The person who is socially integrated feels at home in this world, and this gives him courage and an optimistic view. He does not regard the adversities of life as a personal injustice; he is not alone.