Life is often reduced to acknowledge that there exists for all living things a prevalent inescapable struggle for survival. The principle of, “Survival of the fittest” explains that individuals, or whole species must be “adaptable”, or die.

There would be those that claim that highly valued traits of human grit and resilience can be passed along in one’s genetic material. This much sought after feature is the subject of a long history of exploration and research.

Biologist, Charles Darwin and others sought to address the question of exactly how living things adapt and pass along that life-giving ability to stand up to adverse environmental conditions and survive. Darwin’s research led to theories of evolution which seeks to explain how all living things respond to change over time. Heritability, is the most fundamental strength of living things to pass along traits that empower species to avoid extinction at the hands of predators, disease or anything that threatens the ability to sustain life. Scientists are clear cultural imbued traits like grittiness and mental toughness are not passes along via DNA biochemical material, rather are conditioned by human interaction we call upbringing or learning.

People want to know, why is it that certain distinctive traits are passed along among family members. People seem to think that certain familial traits are emphasized during child rearing so as to prepare them with a boost or advantage. Practicing the desired behavior becomes almost, “second nature” and thus gives the appearance of in-born features passed along at birth.

Today, it is asserted that certain nations and cultures claim ownership for distinctive features that identify with that originator. “Sisu” is such a trait associated with the people of Finland. More about this character feature will follow. Not to be outdone, people of Scandanavian nations might also lay claim to possessing the ability to demonstrate extraordinary strength against adversity and recognize that they too deserve notice for calling upon mental toughness, at will to prove their might.

Consulting with Swedish historian and genealogy expert, Lars Lundstrom confirmed that Maja’s heritage and ancestors’ records provide reasons to believe that Maja’s status of resilience displayed stands with a number of her relatives that have demonstrated mental toughness of note. Swedes have a lexicon for explaining and interpreting this phenomenon. Taga is a word like Grit, meaning either has Taga or don’t. It is like, “have a spine or backbone”. Taga in old Swedish language term for sturdiness, drive, grit, courage, but not clumsy or stubborn. Someone who is strong minded or strong willed, they are said to demonstrate Taga. When tough times happen, persons with Taga hang in there and show some Taga”.

Finland joins those actively exploring the concept of grit and resilience, including researcher, Emilia Lahti. Lahti at the University of Aalto in Helsinki points to the value of taking a close look at Finnish, “Sisu”. Sisu is defined as the ability to push through hardships, extraordinary courage and determination, a power reserve. Sisu is said to have a character of strength much more than meets the eye.  Lahti explains, sisu is an untranslatable historical-cultural construct, – “that has been used for centuries to describe the enigmatic power that enables individuals to push through unbearable challenges. A systematic examination of stories and grit and resilience traits and words for the phenomenon exist. Like the Finns for from other cultures, such as rasmia (Spanish), gaman (Japanese) and l’chatchila ariber (Aramaic) that relate to overcoming adversity.

Perhaps a case history sheds some light on the discussion of how culture enters the discussion about the ability to stand up against adversity and rise to occasions that are difficult and may even threaten personal survival.

Life was hard for the Wittenstrom family in Depression era America. Grandma Maja pointed to grit and resilience as a life force that she explicitly taught and insisted that the children learned and practices together. Grit and resilience were the ethic that drove the teamwork, and motivated an ongoing optimistic refusal to give in to weakness and self-pity. Looking back, Maja and her children earned over their lifetime a diploma as they endured a childhood learning experience of testing receiving a “hard knocks” education curriculum studies in the midst of a demanding, Great Depression School of Hard Times Survival College.

Probing deeper into family history and genealogy connects with stories that touch into the life of the community in which ancestors have lived and come from. Genealogy searches sometimes touch the political economic and social history which help understand how place and time helps define what is known about ancestors. There is strong interest by many asking questions about living through the 1930’s and the Great Depression. Finding out what was going on in the nation and world affecting one’s ancestors provides interest and brings puzzle pieces to the mosaic of family ancestry pictures.

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzche reminded the world: what does not kill me makes me stronger. Grandma Maja essentially went to war against the Great Depression in order to save her life and promote the life of her three young children.

More on “Sisu” and Viking-Scandanavian Grit applied to engaging in the fight against adversity will follow in another blog.

To be continued…………

Published by Donnie: An Admiring Grandson

Living an inspired life modeled after my Grandma Maja, who stepped up as a Swedish immigrant widow and mom of 3, facing America’s Great Depression while demonstrating uncommon grit and valor. I am determined to share her life lessons so she is no longer forgotten. I have a book to share and the reader will preview the entire story by visiting here. You are most welcome.

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