Finnish Fervor

Finnish society and culture have a few terms and beliefs and stories that, although not representative of each Finn, are in some respects unique to Finnish culture. Perhaps the most distinctive term that can be applied to Finnish culture is sisu. The term sisu has parallels and relatives in many cultures, but there are no direct translations in the English language, and perhaps many others. Most Finns grow up with stories of what seem to be feats of Thor himself. I have heard sisu translated as guts, courage, endurance, dependability, and commitment. I believe that sisu is this and much, much more. To me sisu isn’t just the ability to overcome adversity, but to utterly overwhelm it. I believe this perseverance leads to a heightened sense of personal awareness. Sisu is almost as difficult to describe as faith and Zen. Sisu is a form, maybe even the source, of inner strength, when it summons you it will not allow you to fail. The wars between Finland and Russia are a good examples of the power of sisu. To me the most amazing account from these wars, is that of the Winter War of 1939. This battle took place from November 30, 1939 to March 13, 1940. Russia sent 460,000 troops and 2,000 tanks in 23 divisions to take over Finland. Finland’s own troops numbered a meager 160,00 soldiers with little or no armored support. The Finnish Army was able to hold their lines, fend off the Russian forces and inflict a staggering 400,000 casualties on the well-supplied and reinforced Russian Army. By holding out until they were down to the last of their ammunition, the Finnish Army was able to force Stalin to concede a defeat. This ability to stand up against insurmountable odds and reign victorious is a prime example of sisu. Another term associated with sisu is hartia pankki. This is a sort of subset of sisu containing the qualities of both strength and courage. Sisu has also been described in my family with the phrase: “We may not always win, but we will never lose.”

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