Sisu: You Probably Don’t Have It (but should wish you did). COMMENTARY.

There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear…

Back in 2014, well before Off Grid Ham was even an Idea, I wrote the following article for another website. I’m digging it out again because after Field Day 2022, I believe the ham community could use a pep talk. Flipping through the internet, it seems there are a lot of hams who did not get what they expected out of Field Day. For some, it was band conditions. For others, it was the weather. Many had equipment issues or problems with others not coming through on their promises. sisu. 

I realize I’m basing these observations on anecdotal evidence. I am also well aware that the internet is not a realistic lens through which to view the world. Yet, I have this unshakable feeling that it’s not just “squeaky wheels” bitching on social media. I don’t know if it’s the state of the economy, leftover Covid nervousness, or what.

Field Day has a few common themes (besides radio) that everyone should grasp: Determination, willpower, and the desire to improve. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but to me amateur radio is not just a hobby. Besides the fun technogeek stuff, which I absolutely love, it’s a avenue for personal growth. Solving problems in ham radio gives me a positive attitude in other areas of my life. Hobbies are not supposed to be just amusing time killers. They should enrich us and make us better.

Be an example of personal growth and change.

If you had a great Field Day, I hope you’ll spread the good vibe around all year. If your Field Day was not as awesome as you’d hoped, do some introspection. How much of it could you have controlled? How did you react to the things you could not control? What can you do different next time? Did you face the problems or give up and quit?

The following article has nothing to do with radio, but that’s not the point. If you can apply this concept to your radio pursuits it will act as motivator for you to always try your best and not give up:

Sisu: Why you don’t have it (but should wish you did).

sisu

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In American culture, winning sports teams and of course the military are good examples of what group determination can accomplish. Even still, a group is comprised of individuals who will have their own personal agendas even if they are otherwise loyal to the organization and its goals.

The Nordic nation of Finland is the global equivalent of the quiet neighbor. They take care of their property and don’t bother anyone. They’re not unfriendly or standoffish but do keep to themselves. Perhaps by design it is not obvious, but these understated people have a spirit of “git-er-done!” that would make John Wayne look like Homer Simpson.

Sisu (SEE-soo) is a Finnish word that has no direct English translation, but in approximate terms means grit, guts, determination, willpower, and perseverance. The dictionary definition of the word does not go nearly far enough, though. The Finns have tapped into a form of strength that is not duplicated anywhere else to such a depth and breadth. To put it in terms Americans can understand, imagine if the resolve to never quit that made the US military so highly respected was ingrained into a culture to the point that it becomes the very heart & soul of an entire nation. That’s the essence of sisu.

What makes us strong?

The human condition of sisu is not fully understood even though it has been scientifically studied by psychologists and sociologists. We do know what it isn’t: It’s not about situational bravery, such as when an otherwise risk-averse guy saves someone from a burning building. It’s not about merely working hard or being highly disciplined or achieving a goal. Although these things are components of sisu, they alone are not enough. About the only thing everyone agrees on is that sisu is a uniquely Finnish quality. It is their entire national and cultural identity condensed into one single word.

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While researching for this article I came to the conclusion that sisu is greater than the sum of its parts; it’s at a whole different level than what most of us think of as determination. Finnish historians and folklorists attribute sisu to the ethical hardening that comes from hundreds of years of fighting the harsh weather, the churning sea, the rugged land, and the Russians. In one description, it was pointed out that Finland has gone to war with Russia forty two times and never won, not even once. Yet, Finland is still a sovereign nation with its pride as strong as ever. No one ever grew stronger by being successful every time. There is room for failure in sisu, but zero tolerance for being a crybaby about it.

If you can’t have it, you’ll still be better for trying.

I do not believe that sisu can be taught to those who were not immersed in it since birth, which is very unfortunate because it’s an attribute we should all wish we had. We can emulate it to the extent that we can, copy elements of it into our own lives, and in the process become stronger and more resolute. The problem: Those who are already inclined to face big challenges don’t need much inspiration, while the lazy & unmotivated are going to keep doing what they’re doing, or not doing. I’m sure Finland has its share of shiftless slackers, but the concentration of bums in a society goes down greatly when sisu is is part of a country’s DNA and having a “stiff upper lip” is a national expectation.

You might be a leader even if you didn’t ask for the job.

There are a few people in my circle who I would say have something close to sisu. Almost by willpower alone they can carve a path out of any situation. No matter how crappy a deal they’re given, there’s no complaining. They don’t attain complete victory all the time, but they always come out the other end better than when they went in.

If we can’t have sisu in its purest form, the hunger for it and a never-ending effort to aspire to its ideals will make us better. Finland may be a self-effacing country, but they are ok with that. Their strength and perseverance comes from within. The Finns wisely know that if you have sisu, no one can take it away; and if you don’t have sisu, no one can give it to you.

Reposted with minor edits and changes from the original. ©2014, ©2020 Chris Warren

2 thoughts on “Sisu: You Probably Don’t Have It (but should wish you did). COMMENTARY.

  1. Bob

    SISU – Seen in my mother, aunt and uncle who were Finns born in U.S. My grandparents immigrated from Finland early in 20th. century. SISU to the max. As they were tough and hard working, never did they quit NEVER! I only am about 50% Sisu. Better than none!! Father’s side 50/50 Norwegian/British.

    Reply
    1. Chris Warren Post author

      I think we’d all be better if we aspired to sisu even if we’ll never fully achieve it. It’s good to hear sisu has been a positive influence in your life.

      Reply

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