Public defence in Industrial Engineering and Management, M.Sc. and MAPP Emilia Elisabet Lahti

Nurturing a sense of harmony and gentleness toward oneself and others is a gateway to accessing healthy sisu
A woman joggin by the sea

Title of the thesis: Sisu as guts, grace and gentleness: A way of life, growth, and being in times of adversity

Humans possess extraordinary reserves of strength that are not utilized under usual circumstances, but which allow them to surpass preconceived limitations. Sisu is an age-old Finnish characterization of a quality that runs deeper than perseverance. This depth, however, is more like canon of fortitude with a multitude of tunes, rather than a single tune. The present work is the first doctoral level study of sisu. It used an online survey and thematic analysis to outline an initial conceptual foundation for understanding the construct. The epistemological and ontological standpoint adopted in the research views knowledge and human capacity as something ever-evolving that come into existence through experience and action. It therefore also deployed a hermeneutic phenomenological orientation that involved extensive autoethnographic field work in the form a 2400-km/50-day ultrarun and bicycle journey across the length of New Zealand and a residency in a Chinese martial arts academy. The purpose was to understand what the experience of sisu might mean not as something inferred through second-hand sources or in retrospect, but against the raw and unpredictable backdrop of life as-it-happens.

Based on the mixed-methods study sisu is embodied fortitude and extraordinary resolve in the face of extreme adversity. However, it is also an expression of what the author has become to label as gentle power through which one might not only survive but overcome, and even find elevation in the course of their tribulations. It points to sisu as a harmonious quality, as opposed to stubborn sisu that may turn against itself. Sisu is thus understood in terms of what Daniel Stern has termed vitality affect state. The view illuminates the temporally dynamic nature of sisu as the emergent and therefore, not a simple “ON/OFF -switch-like” lived experience of fortitude, but one which is more like an entire mixer table; embodied, corporeal, existential, and beyond any dualistic philosophy of resolve and adversity.

Attempting a novel way of viewing sisu, the dissertation renders our understanding of struggle, achievement, and recovery from trauma from an angle of surrender and strength of pliability, rather than sheer determination and not-giving-upness. Sisu resides not only within the individual as a personal quality but becomes alive through our connection with one another and also psychological safety–being dependent on the life-giving qualities of those connections. Systems intelligence that involves “thinking about one’s thinking” and nurturing an awareness of the interconnected nature of life in systems and thus, even our expression of inner strength, is used as a framework for cultivating sisu as a healthy strength.

Opponent: Doctor Timothy Lomas, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA

Custos: Professor (emer.) Esa Saarinen, Aalto University School of Science, Department of Industrial Engineering and Management

The public defence will be organised via Zoom. Link to the event

The dissertation is publicly displayed 10 days before the defence in the publication archive Aaltodoc of Aalto University

Electronic thesis

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