Sisu is a Finnish term that could be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. The equivalent in English is “to have guts”, and indeed, the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. However, sisu has a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain the same. To anthropologists, it is an appropriate invention for a cold northern land, dotted by thousands of lakes, and long under threat of being overwhelmed, militarily, linguistically and otherwise, by more powerful neighbours. Similar concepts exist among other cold-weather peoples, such as the Inuit and Chukchi.
The term is commonly used in everyday speech to describe stoic toughness. It is widely understood in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is home to a large concentration of Finnish Americans. For instance: “Even after cutting his hand open and getting 12 stitches, he didn’t shed a tear. Wow! He’s got sisu!” This has extended to include a popular bumper sticker saying simply “Sisu”. By analogy, the term has picked up new meanings. Depending on context, “sisu” can refer to spunk, attitude, self-confidence, and so on. However, sisu is not bravery, nor strength. It is distinguished from courage, especially when talking about the military. Sisu is an ability to finish the task and get things done and decisiveness. Usually sisu means the will and decisiveness to get things done against impossible odds, or to succeed when given the Chinaman’s chance*.
One very rarely gets the chance to re-invent themselves in a good environment or under favourable conditions. This is not one of those cases. This also is one of those cases. I have been forced to reinvent myself because of a break-up with a man who I thought was the love of my life. He taught me many things about myself and the life that I want to lead. Sadly, it isn’t the life that he wants for himself and because of this, I get to move on and create a new pathway for myself. No, I am no where near as sane and cool about it as I sound but really, I have no choice and there are few chances in any life for reinvention of self. Besides, when ever is the case for reinvention a good one? Usually there is some traumatic event leading up to the realisation that there is need for one to change and then the death of the old self. While I didnt decided that I needed to change, the decision that there needed to be change in my life was made for me and I get to move with that current. I dont think that there is any part of my self or my lifestyle that needs to “die”, I have to let my idea of what my life was going to be with my ex-fiance die so that I can create a new life and pathway for myself be created.
What better way to learn my new path than to define myself? What and who I am. What and who I want. What I want to do and who I want to be. Where and which pathways I will choose to take. What is missing from my life and if I want to fill that gap, what will I will it with, when, how and why. There are many questions and just as many answers. Its just figuring out which questions I want to ask and which answers I want to listen to and live with that will be the difficult part. Thats where my sisu comes in and I dont just mean my dog. My sister, J, gave me a bumper sticker in a gift basket when she got married. The same bumpersticker mentioned in the Wiki entry. I loved the word and its meaning for ages. I thought at first that it would be a good name for a boat. Since I dont own a boat, I had to use the word and its meaning of long-term courage and stick-to-it-tive-ness somewhere else. When I looked into getting a dog, I knew that there would be one in my future that would be perfect for having “sisu” as a name. And there is.
She is everything that I see in myself. Independant, creative, smart, willfull, loving, gentle, outwardly fearless but really a big chicken, polite and sweet but never afraid to be a b*tch if she needs to be. Granted, she is a bit more fuzzy than I am and has yet to figure out how to earn her own kibble but I know the kibble earning days are coming soon and if I dont shave soon, I may be just as fuzzy. Either way, she is here in my life and I love every moment of living with her. She reminds me to live and be ‘sisu’ every moment of every day.
And that is the greatest defining trait and invention of self that I could ever ask for. There will be much more coming. As knittingfisher there was much knitting and spinning and that certainly will not be changing as I remind myself of the sisu I have within myself. I look forward to sharing it all with you.
*The figure of speech a “Chinaman’s chance” essentially means someone has no chance at all of accomplishing or successfully doing an action. The original phrase, from the California gold rush, was that one had only a “Chinaman’s Chance in Hell“, but it morphed through usage into its current state. The figure of speech has met some criticism in the United States for the fact it uses the word Chinaman.