Monday, 28 April 2014

Chats with Mina on Finnish Sisu and Silence

This is Mina my supervisor at Viisari...she's a milliner by trade and has worked teaching weaving/
handicrafts/ crocheting for the last three years at Viisari.

This week I've been reading a lot on the Finnish idea of and social practices of silence, (hiljaisuus) and the concept of sisu which means a combination of determination, grit and resilience although most believe it is really tricky to translate directly....I had a chat with Mina about this to see what she thought of these Finnish concepts and life in Viisari...Here is a link to the essay I've been reading, "Coding Personhood through Cultural terms and Practices: Silence and Quietude as a Finnish "Natural Way of Being" which you can read if you are interested or really bored!

How do you like working at Viisari?
I like this work very much as the clients make it such a good place.  It's a good environment, a calm environment.
Is this concept of silence still important to the Finnish people?
Yes somehow it is.  But nowadays many people are afraid of this as people are alone.  If you don't co-operate with yourself and your mind it will kill you. 
Many people like the forest here for silence and in Aulanko, the park in Hameenlinna, we have natures own silence.  Hiljaisuus is a very meaningful word for the Finnish people. 
What does this concept of omissa oloissaan (when people are undisturbed in their thoughts and actions) mean to the Finnish people?
Sometimes in Finland it's like we're still Forest people who don't have neighbours!  Even though we live in bigger houses now and people here commonly live in flats, we don't often want to see our neighbours or feel like we are bothering them.  Sometimes in the newspapers we read of mummified old people that have been discovered after years.  Last year there were two or three cases like that and eventually the signs of death were the smell and a stack of post..
I lived in a block of apartments for ten years in Hameenlinna and after this time I didn't know all the neighbours.  It is very deep in our culture that we don't want to bother people.
Tell me about the Finnish concept of 'sisu' ...
We can think of sisu as banging your head through a hard stone.  Yeah sisu is a concept which kind of incorporates self-determination, an idea that the individual will manage and can just keep going no matter how tough the circumstances,  This idea probably means we don't want to show our soft side, our weak side.  This idea of not showing weakness definitely has an effect on stigma of mental health in Finland.  Yes we have the Kamppi Chapel in Central Helsinki which is a church/mental health resource but that is in Helsinki.  Here in Hameenlinna we are in the middle of everything but actually in the middle of nowhere. 
Hameenlinna hasn't developed like other big cities around it and the people here are so conservative on the inside - there is always a no to everything new.
I don't think it is really open in Finland yet to be open about having a mental health issue because of this concept of sisu and self-reliance on the part of the individual.
IN my own family I saw this when I was growing up...My mother suffered from post-natal depression but refused to take medication for it.  She felt that only hard work could get rid of problems.  Later when my sister had some mental health issues and went to speak with my mother, my mother put her hands to her ears - she didn't want to know.  This is still the same with neighbours in Finland - people do not want to know one anothers problems.
As well as this we don't like to stick out from each other in Finland and we have a saying in Finnish culture that instead of showing off we put our candles under the basket.  We do not show off here and of course this also has an effect somehow on mental health issues...

Thanks Mina! 

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