Something like that.

Something like that.

I was on my way into a production meeting when my phone buzzed, and buzzed again. Thinking it was production related and, that if there were two buzzes it must be urgent, I looked at it before going in.

It was neither production related nor urgent. It turned out to be a pair of texts from my Dad- a single thought too big for a single message- and clearly a thought that was important enough to merit a text message. Dad’s not big on text messaging so it came as a pleasant surprise. The message introduced me to the Finnish word “sisu”.

“I thought of you when I learned what it means,” Dad wrote, “Look it up. Might be good blog fodder.”

Ergo, (Latin!) this post.

Sisu, it turns out, has no direct translation to English. It sums up a series of ideas in a single word: perseverance, commitment to a goal in spite unlikely odds, a deep well of internal resources called upon to face physical and mental challenges beyond one’s perceived limits, etc. According to Wikipedia it is: “a Finnish word that cannot be translated properly into the English language, loosely translated to mean stoic determination, bravery, guts, resilience,[1][2] perseverance and hardiness,[3][4] expressing the historic self-identified Finnish national character. Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is Sisu. It is similar to equanimity, with the addition of a grim quality of stress management.”

I knew that I liked the Finns.

Although if I'm really honest, this is what comes to mind when I think of Finland.

Although if I’m really honest, this is what comes to mind when I think of Finland.

Yesterday at the Museum of Tolerance I learned that Finland had only seven casualties to the Holocaust. Seven. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that sisu had something to do with that.

I find it very flattering that Dad thought of me after learning about what sisu means. After reading about it, it is certainly a trait to which I aspire: a sort of introverted version of chutzpah. It is certainly a trait that would be useful in the pursuit of film production. If ever there were an industry in which one needs to decide on a course of action and then stick to that decision against repeated failures it is filmmaking. I am still working on the stress management part. Obviously.

There is an unexpected power to be found in capturing an idea in a word even if the word has no direct translation. It’s nice having something to aim at.


~ by Gwydhar Gebien on June 15, 2015.

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