How Graceful is Our Sisu, How Deep Our Love?

When all this is over, or when the most pressing chaos of Covid-19 dissipates, the question I’ll ask from myself is the same that guided my run across New Zealand:

How graceful was my courage?

How gently did I navigate the landscape of fear and did I step up to constructive, hope-giving leadership? Did I honor myself and others during the process?

Anxiety because of uncertainty can trigger stress reactions that, against one’s best intentions, can bring out our dormant shadow side. It is human to feel feelings of fear, but to disseminate fear around me is not the solution. It is ok to feel feelings of hopelessness, but it is not ok to pour my hopelessness as fuel to the flames of chaos around me.

I know I can do better.


This time period requires a response from every single person. It is a call to civic responsibility and personal leadership within our private lives, families and online presence by taking a check on our emotional responses and by grounding to what is best in us.

Here’s the thing:

you and I have been prepared for this time. Something has been changing and now a very concrete ‘something’ has emerged.

To put the hard-earned experience we all have of overcoming hardship, the awe-inspiring strength of the human heart and the wisdom in our bones to real-time, real-life use.

To be a lighthouse and a lantern through our calm yet decisive presence, so that we can collectively wake up a bit more and remember the strength that breathes through every one of us.

The Nugget point lighthouse on the South Island of New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Jasper van der Meij on Unsplash

I am mourning for those who already have lost loved ones (and can’t attend their funerals) and for all of the financial losses that have put some of us in very bleak situations — most of what we’ll understand only the future.

At the same time, I trust us as humanity to rise to this situation. I guard my mindset and heart with fervor to not let my thoughts become dark or obsess over the news around the situation. Because if that happens, I can’t fight this battle well — with softness, gentle leadership, carrying those who need support.

Love begets integrity, courage brings about effective action, civility creates safety, and grace gives birth to a heart of virtue.

These — love, courage, civility and grace — are qualities I believe are the undercurrent of every single human, but which the prevailing operating system of our world seems to suppress, or has partially forgotten.

However, we are now remembering. We are waking up.


This is the time to let that which is leaning toward the light within us reach out even higher and brighter.

When the pandemic is over, or we begin our collective journey of posttraumatic growth, I want to look back and say it made us more graceful in our courage — or sisu as we might say in Finland — more loving in our actions, and more civil as everyday leaders.

That it turned me into a more graceful, loving and civil human.


Research-backed further reading on courage, strength, leadership, and civility for those interested:

Civility and leadership: Porath, C. (2015). The Effects of civility on advice, leadership, and performance. Journal of Applied Psychology 100(5), doi:10.1037/apl0000016

Leadership through ‘presencing’: Scharmer, O. (2002). Presencing: Learning From the Future As It Emerges: On the Tacit Dimension of Leading Revolutionary Change. A conference paper resented at the Conference On Knowledge and Innovation, May 25–26, 2000, Helsinki School of Economics.

Posttraumatic growth: Tedeschi R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychol Inq 15(1), 1–18.

Soft-skilled leadership: Marques, J. (2013). Understanding the strength of gentleness: Soft-skilled leadership on the rise. Journal of Business Ethics, 116(1), 163–171.

Sisu: Lahti, E. (2019). Embodied fortitude: An introduction to the Finnish construct of sisu. International Journal of Wellbeing, 9(1), 61–82. doi:10.5502/ijw.v9i1.672 — link to the research paper at the end.

Systems intelligent leadership: Hämläinen, R. & Saarinen, E. (2007). Systems intelligence in leadership and everyday life. Aalto University— these papers and becoming familiar with the concepts outlined by Hämäläinen and Saarinen are among the more transformative moments in my life. A warm recommendation if you are new to systems thinking and systems intelligence.


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