SISU: A Reflection on Heritage

For a birthday present I was given the Ancestry DNA kit.  I did the sample and sent it back.

After weeks of waiting, the results came back.  There was a surprise!

48% Great Britain and 8% Ireland matched my research over the years.  However, it was the 25% Scandinavia which surprised me.

To be honest my focus had been on the British Isles.  I knew very little about Scandinavia.

Jumping forward a few months, I retired from the university after being on a collegiate campus for 43 years.  My colleagues decided to give me seven books on Nordic culture and history.

This month I began reading the first one:  Exploring an Alien Culture by J. B. Hove.  On page 16 in a table contrasting Central and Southern Europe plus Russia with the Nordic region, the word sisu was listed under Nordic.

I had no clue what sisu was.  So, I did what anyone (almost anyone) would do—I googled it.

Listed below are some references to the word.  It is an essential component of the Nordic people.

Tenacity is a component of sisu.  To hold on when others give up may be viewed as an act of foolishness or may be viewed as perseverance to reach a goal or quest.

In the ancient Arthurian Legends the quest for the Holy Grail was a noble pursuit, but the pursuit had its cost, a very high cost, to the Knights of Camelot.  Sir Galahad, the son of Lancelot and Elaine, persevered where many other knights faltered, failed and died.

If I may bestow it on Sir Galahad, he had sisu.  If sisu is followed to its logical conclusion, the end of life with its many vicissitudes on the shore of the cosmic ocean will have been a life worth living.

Valhalla or Fólkvangr is a great reward for living a life of sisu. I wonder if one can chose to sail with either the warrior god Odin or the beautiful goddess Freyja from the shore to their respective halls?

As we count down the rest of 2017, embrace the concept of sisu.  It may be associated with my heritage, but it is a philosophy which all can embrace on this planet traversing the cosmos.

May the last weeks of Summer be ones of joy and peace in these troubling times.


G. D. Williams © 2017

POST 729


Our Finnish Heritage

To the Finnish people, sisu has a mystical, almost magical meaning. Sisu is a unique Finnish concept. It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character.  It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost.

Sisu is an inherent characteristic of the Finnish people. You might call it backbone, spunk, stamina, guts, or drive and perseverance.  It is a measure of integrity that surpasses the hardship and sees through to the end.

Sisu is the quality that lets them pick up, move on, and learn something from previous failures. It’s the hard-jawed integrity that makes them pay their war debts in full. In short, it’s the indomitable will that sets Finns apart and explains many of the incredible things they do.


What Is Sisu?

The term dates back hundreds of years. However, the idea of sisu is much older. It is a central part of Finnish collective discourse and can been seen as a life philosophy. Sisu is extraordinary courage and determination in the face of adversity. It’s about not seeing a silver lining in the clouds, and yet jumping into the storm anyways. At the core of sisu is the idea that in each of us there is more strength that meets the eye. Even though the construct of sisu has its roots in Finland, it is relevant to all human beings anywhere in the world. It is a potential which we all share and which can have a powerful impact on our daily lives. Sisu is embodied by people everywhere who defy the odds and hold on to hope when there at first seems to be none.