An Ode to 17 Thought-Provoking Life Quotes from Fredrik Backman’s Beartown

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I am a big fan of Fredrik Backman, even though I have read only 2 of his books.

The first one was A Man Called Ove. I completed the second one quite recently. It is a beautiful, emotional, intense story of a sleepy little cold town called Beartown. A place where people are laidback in all things except one – ice hockey. Their love for the sport transcends everything. It reminds me of professional football club fans. The same passion, the same energy, the same love. The same disappointment when their team loses or when a controversy pops up. If you are a sports fan or know someone who is, you would find this book extremely relatable.

Fredrik Backman is a genius when it comes to explaining moments and expressing emotions. I got goosebumps while reading through many of the quotes in Beartown.

I am listing some of my favorites here.

“The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?”

“Being a parent makes you feel like a blanket that’s always too small. No matter how hard you try to cover everyone, there’s always someone who’s freezing.”

“Religion is something between you and other people; it’s full of interpretations and theories and opinions. But faith … that’s just between you and God.”

“People sometimes say that sorrow is mental but longing is physical. One is a wound, the other an amputated limb, a withered petal compared to a snapped stem.”

“One of all the terrible effects of grief is that we interpret its absence as egotism. It’s impossible to explain what you have to do in order to carry on after a funeral, how to put the pieces of a family back together again, how to live with the jagged edges. So what do you end up asking for? You ask for a good day. One single good day. A few hours of amnesia.”

“In a few years’ time she’ll read an old newspaper article about research showing that the part of the brain that registers physical pain is the same part that registers jealousy. And then Ana will understand why she hurt so badly.”

“A great deal is expected of anyone who’s been given a lot.”

“Community is the fact that we work towards the same goal, that we accept our respective roles in order to reach it. Values is the fact that we trust each other. That we love each other.”

“If Peter has learned one thing about human nature during all his years in hockey, it’s that almost everyone regards themselves as a good team player, but that very few indeed understand what that really means.”

“When you can accept the worst aspects of your teammates because you love the collective, that’s when you’re a team player.”

“Because the thing you can never be prepared for when you have children is your increased sensitivity. Not just feeling, but hypersensitivity. He didn’t know he was capable of feeling this much, to the point where he can hardly bear to be in his own skin.”

“One of the first things you learn as a leader, whether you choose the position or have it forced upon you, is that leadership is as much about what you don’t say as what you do say.”

“The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.”

“Every child in every town in every country has at some point played games that are dangerous to the point of being lethal. Every gang of friends includes someone who always takes things too far, who is the first to jump from the highest rock, the last to jump across the rails when the train comes. That child isn’t the bravest, just the least frightened. And possibly the one who feels he or she doesn’t have as much to lose as the others.”

“The simplest and truest thing David knows about hockey is that teams win games. It doesn’t matter how good a coach’s tactics are: if they’re to stand any chance of working, first the players need to believe in them.”

“Fighting isn’t hard. It’s the starting and stopping that are hard.”

“There are few words that are harder to explain than ‘loyalty’. It’s always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.”

An Ode to Saying Please and Thank You at Work

Say Thank You at Work
Photo by Polina Zimmerman

How often have we dealt with authoritative emails at work?

The ones that sound unnecessarily aggressive and bossy, instead of courteous yet firm.

After my previous rant on surviving performance reviews, I looked into a couple of emails of supervisors generally well-liked at the office, and those who weren’t.

The ones who were liked (Batch A), were polite and empathetic in their emails:

  • Could you please finish this task by Saturday?
  • Thank you for completing this!

In contrast, the ones who weren’t liked (Batch B), wrote their emails like this:

  • Do this by Saturday!
  • Dead silence after completing any task

See the difference? Would you like to get emails from Batch B? No one is fond of unnecessary aggression.

It is such a refresher nowadays to hear supervisors being polite. A “Thank you” or a “Please,” even if formal makes you look humane and not cold and distant. It motivates employees to do better. Politeness does not mean being weak. You can be firm and polite!

Something Batch A does often (to show the emergency of the situation):

  • Please send this across by Saturday! This is very important.

No unwanted aggression here. A simple message that conveys the seriousness of the task. Most people are smart enough to get the gist of such a message.

Employees perform their best when their supervisors are empathetic and kind. The attrition rate (the rate at which people leave) is always high in companies with bad managers. A 2016 survey in India showed that employees are willing to stay longer and work harder if they were well appreciated in their companies. About 59% felt they were unappreciated by their bosses. That’s more than half of the survey sample! No small number there. Sometimes, all it takes is a “thank you” or a “please,” to make things better.

So why are we so stingy with appreciating others or using cordial language at work?

Each supervisor is shaped by their own experiences in the corporate world. Some might have faced similar situations, a boss being too self-centered or supercilious or manipulative, and they end up thinking this is the only way to climb up the career ladder.

Sadly, this is partially true.

A recent study disturbingly stated that narcissistic, manipulative people tend to become CEOs faster (29% more) than their less self-entitled peers. We look at people at the top for inspiration, and we see a lot of them acting entitled and impolite, and we think “That’s how we become successful.

But is it really? Is this the downside of being successful? Should we dump our emotions, empathy, kindness in the garbage in the quest for power?

I have been in the corporate world for so long, and I have seen and experienced so much, that the first thought when I see a CEO or a leader on LinkedIn is not Wow! I want to be this person,” but “How many people did you demotivate and destroy to reach where you are? How many fake stories have you cooked up to save yourself, by shifting the blame onto your juniors? How good are you at playing politics in office?” This seems very dark and harsh I know. But it is mostly the truth. There are exceptions but the many leaders I have seen have sold their souls to the corporate devil. They will do anything to get on the super boss’ good books and won’t hesitate to drag anyone else down in the process.

Sometimes, from what I have seen, I feel it’s best to stay away from the rat race.

So you don’t end up becoming a rat.

An Ode to Saying No to Dowry

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Yet another day in Kerala. Yet another dowry death.

Vismaya, a 23 year old, who died days after sharing her pics of abuse with a relative, has yet again prompted many to chant “A divorced daughter is better than a dead daughter.” Her parents were very much aware of the abuse she was going through, so was her brother and cousin, but unfortunately, not one of them could save her. There is no single person to blame here. Almost everyone is at fault, including the society.

I am a divorcee. Fortunately, my parents were super supportive, and gave my safety the utmost priority when I chose to leave my husband’s place after yet another episode of abuse. The day I left home was the day my parents came to know that I was facing physical and emotional trauma over many months. I did not want to worry them. Maybe Vismaya felt the same. The difference was, my parents did not tell me to compromise.

Mine was an arranged marriage. My parents and I were, are and always will be strictly against dowry. We always had made it clear when a proposal came by that no dowry would be given. My in-laws and husband said they had no demands, though traditionally their family practiced it.

On our wedding day, amidst all the flurry of activity, it felt odd when my husband quipped happily “(So and so) told me you are wearing a lot of jewelry; that I am a very lucky guy.” It was a hint of what was to come.

The emotional blackmail began on the first day of marriage. My ex-husband’s old relative, with a full authoritative tone, told me to put my jewelry in a locker at their chosen bank. When I naively told him that we usually put our jewelry in our own lockers, he was adamant that I keep it in a new one at the current location. This was odd to me, because I have never heard of such a thing happening in my family before. The women of the family always kept their jewelry in existing lockers. There was no question of transferring or shifting it to the husband’s place. Plus, it is so redundant – why open another locker when you already have one? There can only be one answer.

I consulted my mother, who panicked and told me not to do anything till they arrived. So I kept stalling their attempts to put my assets in their locker. My mother came to visit soon and took away the jewelry. This angered my ex-husband, and things (predictably) went downhill from then on. I remember asking him “Did you marry me for my money?

Physical abuse soon began. Not enough to get me hospitalized, but enough to give me bruises. “There are so many women getting hospitalized, that’s what real physical abuse is!” – he justified his actions to me. I forgave, but could never forget because he would keep repeating it. At the end, I ended the relationship and walked out. I realized my tears did not matter to him, nor my well being or happiness. I was married for just one year.

To all the unmarried women who are reading this, this is something you should note. You will hardly see anyone talk about this anywhere online – how dowry nowadays is rarely mentioned before marriage, camouflaged and hidden, all ready to make a move on its prey when the time is right. Many predators, cunning to the core, have realized that this right time to get what they are eyeing, is not before marriage but after it – when the woman is the most vulnerable, getting accustomed to a new place, confused and dazed. No one is explicitly going to use the word “dowry” but you will get to know from their actions.

Please remember, your current assets are yours alone. This needs to be strictly mentioned before marriage. You need to underline your deal breakers, so that there is no room for confusion. If after marriage, you decide to mutually hold future assets together, that is entirely up to you. But do not let anyone emotionally manipulate you into gaining access to your safety and security. Once you lose control of that, you lose control of your life.

I survived the worst phase of my life because I had solid support. Whenever I see a death or abuse case, it feels overwhelming. A lot of “if only” phrases come to mind.

  • If only, the family had supported her enough. Instead of telling her to compromise, they had told her to come home or “We are coming to pick you up” instead.
  • If only, the victim realized her life is not meant for suffering, to endure everything in silence. That staying married, even if toxic, is not the ultimate goal in life. Happiness is.
  • If only, the society made it easier for women to call it quits when her relationship with her partner becomes irreparable. Instead, mostly, we are told to compromise and adjust more.
  • If only, all men had the guts to strictly say no to dowry, go against tradition.
  • If only, a man’s parents did not put social status on such a high pedestal.

If only…

Many women, like Vismaya, would then still be alive.

An Ode to Being Selfishly Independent

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“Why don’t you get married? It will make your parents happy. It is selfish not to think about them.”

“If not now, then when?”

“Your biological clock is ticking. We need to see our grandchildren before we die.”

These are some dialogues, I and many, have heard at least once in our lifetime.

Now if we marry someone outside our religion or caste, the society chimes in with:

“The poor parents. Their child married someone from a different religion. Why don’t kids understand the sacrifices parents make?”

Your happiness gets the least precedence.

We are almost always emotionally blackmailed into following the norms set up by society. The questions and self-doubts then arise in our mind – “Why am I so weird? Why don’t I feel happy following what others are following” You think – “If so many people are saying the same thing, it must be right,” – when the truth is something else.

It took some unlearning for me to realize, there are no fixed protocols to be followed to live a happy, fulfilling life. No researcher has written a book saying “this is how everyone should behave or else the world would crumble in a day” Rules are formed because they make life less confusing, but they do not necessarily make life more fulfilling.

The blueprint of life is out there – study, study some more, get a job, get married, have children, work until you die. There are examples to follow, whereas, for someone who is single, there is no chart as such – you work, and then what? This lack of clarity, makes many shy away from choosing a different life. People want stability, and following the rules makes them believe they have certainty in their life, irrespective of whether they are mentally at peace or not.

After studies are done, an adult should have the freedom to chart his own blueprint. Conditions apply, of course. If the adult wants to be a terrorist, having his own blueprint would be a disaster.

I am saddened that society made me doubt myself for so long (I’m in my 30s) by indoctrinating me with the feeling that I, on my own, am not good enough. I need a partner, followed by kids, to be termed complete. We see so many celebrating their wedding, engagement anniversaries but have we seen anyone say “Yay! I have been happily single for a year now!” Obviously not, because we have been conditioned to believe, being single and happy is not something to celebrate.

Time and again, I have seen many friends being forced by their parents into marriage, jobs, religious practices, and then living an unhappy life afterward. And the irony is, they haven’t learned from this. The tradition will continue to the next generation from what I have deciphered from their talks. Because society has taught them this is the norm, this is the way it should be, and they should follow it, no questions asked.

It is all so subjective, this happiness. But more often than not, we have to mold them as per societal constructs, even if it is not what we are ready for at the moment. Forcing can make an individual follow the path you want, but the gratification you hope they would achieve through this process can likely be lost. The whole exercise (be it anything) loses its meaning if it has to be drilled down and is not coming from the heart.

Why are we following everything to a tee, to make others happy, when we ourselves get only one chance to live the way we want?

Why aren’t we giving enough freedom for our kids to think, to choose?

Why aren’t we giving enough importance to our happiness? If not in this life, then when?

Isn’t it selfish to demand your loved ones, who are now adults, to unquestioningly follow the rules you have set or the dreams you have selfishly conjured up in your mind for them?

I have stopped falling into this trap. I am no saint and I don’t aim to be. And I hope everyone gets a chance to be selfishly independent too – to realize how insanely happy and beautiful this life can be, just the way it should be.