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The Finns Call it Sisu …

WIKIPEDIA:Sisu is a Finnish term loosely translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any other language. Sisu has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish culture. However sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu. It is similar to equanimity, except the forbearance of sisu has a grimmer quality of stress management than the latter. The noun sisu is related to the adjective sisukas, one having the quality of sisu.

There has been this weird attitude that has permeated our culture – especially the left – of a delusional positivism that drives me crazy sometimes. It drives Ives Smith at Naked Capitalism crazy as well, it seems.

I’ve had it with optimism. Optimism, at least US style, got us into this mess. It gave us 30+ years of indulgent parenting in which self-esteem was considered to be more important than skill acquisition, self-discipline, cooperation, and learning to cope with adversity. It’s led to widespread magical thinking, that if you had the right attitude, you’d surely get ahead. Notice how everyone looking for a job is obligated to fake that they have passion? The Greeks understood that passion was an affliction, something you got when you were on the receiving end of Eros’ arrow and as a result developed an insane, insatiable fixation on whatever you saw next, which in a best case scenario might be an unattainable but fetching female, and if you were unlucky, might be a goat.

My sense is the issue of motivation is more pressing in the zeitgeist than it used to be due to the how dark things are now and how difficult it appears to be to effect positive change. Over the last few weeks, we’ve had a running sub-theme in the comments section on how to motivate people to make sacrifices for future generations if you couldn’t appeal to religion. And in the last day, in a weird bit of sychronicity, I’ve seen two calls from members of the lonely faith of True Progressives, for Yet More Optimism.

And quoting from the piece done in 2008.

“Negativity,” an awkward coinage, has widely come to be used pejoratively. Magical thinking, too, has become increas- ingly popular as a way to gain the illusion of control in an uncertain world. Rhonda Byrne’s motivational best-seller The Secret, for example, basically says that you get what you wish for. If you don’t have the things you want, it means you don’t have enough faith. In this construct, neither insufficient ef- fort nor bad luck plays a role.

In the business world, we’ve moved from hardheaded to feel-good management. As Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway observed recently: “For people in any position of authority the ability to say no is the most important skill there is. . . . No, you can’t have a pay rise. No, you can’t be promoted. No, you can’t travel club class. . . . An illogical love of Yes is the basis for all modern management thought. The ideal modern manager is meant to be enabling, empowering, encouraging and nurturing, which means that his default po- sition must be Yes. By contrast, No is considered demotivating, uncreative and a thoroughly bad thing.”

Ives goes on that it wasn’t optimism that carried the day but tenacity.

Were labor leaders in the days of violence against unions (the persistence and savagery of corporate opposition to labor has been airbrushed out of the most histories), rely on happy talk as a major motivating strategy? Did people fighting for causes they thought would not be won in their life, like abolitionists and the early suffragettes, rely on optimism to get them through the day? What you need is tenacity.

This is what seems to be missing in most movements these days. Like the example given in the wikipedia entry above.

Sisu has been described by The New York Times as “the word that explains Finland”, and the Finns’ “favorite word”—”the most wonderful of all their words.”[4] During the famous Winter War of 1939–1940, the Finnish perseverance in the face of the invasion by the Soviet Union popularized this word in English for a generation.[5][6] In what might have been the first use of sisu in the English language, on January 8, 1940, Time magazine reported:

The Finns have something they call sisu. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win. The Finns translate sisu as “the Finnish spirit” but it is a much more gutful word than that. Last week the Finns gave the world a good example of sisu by carrying the war into Russian territory on one front while on another they withstood merciless attacks by a reinforced Russian Army. In the wilderness that forms most of the Russo-Finnish frontier between Lake Laatokka and the Arctic Ocean, the Finns definitely gained the upper hand.
Time magazine, January 8, 1940[5]
I find myself truly amazed sometimes at some of the fantasies that are expressed on the leftist blogs. How the people will rise up and storm the palace gates.  Forgetting that the first time they did that in Russia, they got mowed down by the palace guards. Or that reforming all of our corporate entities into cooperatively own enterprises democratically run just takes the will to do it. Or regulating the banks will solve our financial problems. Hint there, Obama will likely put Larry Summers – the man who brought us this mess – in charge of The Federal Reserve, which goes to show how successful  either of these will be. Not that I am down on cooperatively run business, but I am cynical about how long the PTB will allow them to go on.
But rather than optimism what is needed most is “pure bloody mindedness”.   Ives uses Stoicism but to me the Finnish Sisu comes closer to the mark. Stoicism with an perverse tenacity coupled with a realistic view of the situation.   That even though it may look hopeless and overwhelming, failure is still not an option.
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