The cultural build describes the enigmatic inner power that compels people to become through hardships.
About a year ago I came along a piece of writing by researcher Emilia Lahti explaining the Finnish cultural build called “sisu.” I had read about the expression before, however Lahti’s description resonated soundly with me personally.
She explains that the concept is in the heart of exactly what it is to be Finnish — although its significance is universal. The idea is centuries older and maintains that in every single of us there is longer strength than matches the eye; it is extraordinary courage and determination in the confront of adversity. She writes:
“Sisu is more about taking action against the odds and stretching beyond one’s observed capacities, than about pursuing long term goals. It relates to what we do when we face formidable obstacles while striving for a goal. Because of its emphasis on short term intensity rather than long term stamina, sisu seems to render itself different from other related constructs such as perseverance and grit. It can be seen as something that acts as a pathway to resileince, which is referred to as the dynamic process of positive adaptation to stress or a tragedy.”
She adds this, which I adore:
One could state that sisu begins where grit and perseverance finish, also is akin to a extra equipment of psychological strength.
I frequently think about in which folks get this seemingly unnatural strength from — if suffering disaster, in the throes of childbirth, during endurance events, living through times of war or other, ahem, difficult political periods. And I’ve desired to write about sisu ever since I read Lahti’s post. But because it’s a cultural construct, which by their nature are a bit abstract, I didn’t feel like I knew it from the Finnish perspective. So I’ve only let it roll around in my brain ever since.
But today Lahti has published a study on the topic, and I’m thrilled since it implies there is information and conclusions, making it a far more tangible topic to write about.
“Sisu has traditionally been elusive and poorly defined,” notes a statement from Aalto University, at which Lahti is a doctoral student. The university says this is the first study to “break down the cultural construct in a systematic way to describe a universal phenomenon of hidden energy in the human system.”
For the study Lahti examined greater than 1000 responses from Finns and others familiar with sisu on exactly what it signifies.
The university notes, “One of the most prominent aspects apparent in the data: extraordinary perseverance, in other words, an individual’s ability to surpass preconceived limitations, either mentally or physically, by accessing stored-up energy reserves.”
She discovered another frequent theme: Finding the guts to take action, even in the confront of narrow chances, “in some cases appearing to the respondents almost as a ‘magic’ source of power that can help pull through tremendous challenges, whether self-selected like an ultra-run or something unexpected like a health struggle.”
Even stillit is seemingly difficult to completely describe sisu — however I liked this shoot: an internal, latent force which moves you forward once you think you’ve reached your limit. “It is almost like a spare tank of gas” Lahti explains. “Its benefits are thanks to adversity, not in spite of it.”
But like a lot of other things in life, a lot of of that a fantastic thing may cause bad things.
“Sisu will help us take the next step – or the first one – but the outcome of that action will depend on how we use it. In that sense, sisu can be constructive or it can be destructive.”
What does this mean? That all that additional strength and determination is good, but could also result in burnout, exhaustion, disconnection and even “create an attitude of mercilessness as the individual imposes his or her own harsh standards on others.”
“Finland is an interesting case,” Lahti says. “We’ve again been named world’s happiest country and in global terms we have an excellent social welfare system, but at the same time we are a country that, also, struggles with things like suicide, depression and domestic violence.”
She increases, “We need sisu, but we also need things like benevolence, compassion and honesty with ourselves.”
Kindness mixed with extraordinary courage and determination in the confront of adversity? Sounds like a magic mix .