My dear friend and colleague extraordinaire, Dr. Nico Rose, sent me the above photo and asked what’s my Sisu take on it.
Besides the obvious answer — that it exemplifies how adversities disrupt the flow of our life as usual, and how we at those times have to push beyond our perceived capacities — it reminds me that sisu a very personal matter. In the context of this picture and boxing, we may say that for some getting punched in the face means entering the Sisu Zone but for someone else it may not. They will just wait till their eyeballs stop rolling and power on. In my case, it would mean a major disruption to my Midsummer (which is celebrated in Finland this weekend!) but not for Mike Tyson or Chuck Norris ; ) It’s all very relative, and you can think of many examples outside the boxing box, naturally.
I often compare sisu to a rubber band. It can stretch to enormous lengths when needed but it also retracts when the tension is gone (i.e. ever noticed when life is easy we begin to get shaken over surprisingly small things?). In fact, research indicates that in order to become resilient an individual must experience some form of hardship, as resilience occurs only in the presence of adversity.
Furthermore, displaying sisu seems to have more to do with performing the activity itself than with the end result. One can be said to have displayed sisu even if the end result is failure. (Failure itself is not a straightforward concept either.) In the sisu survey responses, this was described as “putting up a good fight”, “giving it all you’ve got” and “finishing what you start.” This was especially true for examples of athletic performance, as well as in individuals´ daily displays of sisu to push through extreme challenges, despite not always reaching the goal. As my father once said, sisu is about exceeding yourself and what you thought you could do. It is not so much about external measurements. For example, a person who is severely depressed but gets up from bed anyways can be said to have sisu, even though in normal conditions getting out bed of does not require extra effort. It is therefore not so much about achievement or winning as it is about facing your challenges with integrity, valor and unwavering resoluteness.
Sisu is about immersing yourself in the experience with every fiber of your being and not giving up. It is about seeing into what might be, beyond what Aristotle describes as our ‘actual reality’ and its limitations. Instead of stopping where we feel our abilities end, we push through the pain barrier. This barrier might be fear, uncertainty, physical pain or lack of trust in oneself, among many other such limits. As we step past this boundary, we redefine it as a frontier –what could have been the end has become the beginning. In this way, sisu serves as a hugely empowering tool with the potential to create massive change.
Yours in sisu,