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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Watch Your Language: "Social Distancing"

Hello lovelies!

Have you heard the term "social distancing" before?  If you haven't, it is likely because you've been in a coma for a couple months or have just flown down from another planet.  Welcome, by the way!  You've landed in the middle of a story nobody could have believed even six months ago.

The first time I heard that phrase, I immediately thought, "That isn't the intention at all.  They've missed it completely!"  Isolation, yes.  Physical distance, yes.  But social distancing?  No.  Absolutely not.

We are social beings and thrive in community with one another.  That is why it is so harsh and repugnant in our souls to hear of those who have to live out a term of their life in solitary confinement (even though it may be warranted, we still furrow our brow at the thought of the experience).  That is why when we watch movies and see the hero in a dungeon, our guts wish him or her out of there as quickly as possible.  It is why the phrase "fomo" is a thing.  It is why we do so much of what we do (yes, like shave - the poor razor companies never saw this coming, either).  It is how new parents get through those first weeks without completely losing it.  It is why when researchers study "blue zones" (areas of the world that have a population that lives significantly longer than the average), they find that they one of the main components of longevity and quality of life is connectedness to others. 

Language is a very powerful thing.  As some of you know, I have a Finnish heritage.  Finland is a unique place - for many reasons.  The history of Finland is rife with attempted takeovers from Russia and Sweden, both of those countries battling to absorb little Finland into their empires, nearly taking turns to do so at every opportunity.

How did Finland withstand and persist in their own independence and freedom in spite of being attacked perpetually by much larger countries with much larger armies?

There are two reasons, and both are practical lessons for us today.

The first is sisu.  Sisu is a Finnish word with no exact English equivalent.  It embodies the philosophy and idea of persisting through what would have otherwise have been thought to be impossible, tenacity, grit, resilience, digging deep and defying the odds, and hitting the wall of what is thought to be possible, moving through it, and continuing to move forward, despite the physical and mental cries against doing so.  It is often referred to as a "second wind" - when one is certain that they cannot go one step further or endure one second more, and gritting their teeth and sustaining it anyway at whatever cost. 

Simo Häyhä
One of the most famous Finnish warriors was Simo Häyhä.  In the Winter War against giant Russia (the Soviet Union at that time) that started in 1939, Finland began with ten working tanks against Russia's 6500+, 114 aircraft (100 of which were unfit for war), and 300,000 soldiers against Russia's 760,000.  The soviets hoped to mop up Finland in a week or less, and with these numbers, they seemed that they had a good chance to do just that.

What the soviets did not have, however, was sisu.  When the Finns realized the odds that they were up against, they did not back down.  Instead, they dug deeper than ever to fight for their homes, for their families, and for the country and culture they deeply loved.  Dressed all in white, Finnish daredevils on skis would deliver Molotov cocktails - glass bottles filled with incendiaries, covered in tar, lit on fire and launched - shattering against soviet tanks and destroying them one by one.

Simo Häyhä was a one-of-a-kind warrior, however.  Instead of launching Molotov cocktails, he was a sniper.  He preferred not to even employ the use of a scope on his bolt-action rifle (as the light from the glass may have given away his position), he shoved snow in his mouth so that his breath in the cold would not be noticed, buried himself behind a mound of snow, and earned himself the nickname "The White Death" from the soviets.  In the four hours of Finnish winter daylight, he totaled more than 259 kills in just over 3 months.  He was awarded a medal for his sniper kills (which lasted from November 30 to March 7 - when he was injured by being shot in the face and having half of it blown off.  Spoiler: he lived - he regained consciousness a week later and lived until he was 96 years old.).  In his personal diary found in 2017, he admits a much higher number of kills, counting over 500 on his self-titled "sin list".

Besides possessing immense amounts of sisu, Finland won those wars and preserved their independence and freedom by guarding their language.  The Finns knew that any country that tried to overtake them would try to absorb their culture.  When your culture is absorbed, you may as well consider yourself truly annihilated.  In one generation, you can clear the whole of history - imagine traditions eradicated (like the sauna and ice swimming), and entire ways of life ceasing to be, only to be read about in history books and wondered over.

Finland knew that one of the strongest ways to preserve their culture was to tightly hang on to their language.  Minority societies can be much more easily overtaken if they give up their language and allow for it to be lost to a majority primary language in the area in which they live.  Language parallels power.  We see examples even today - Norway and Sweden are (rightly!) fighting to push back on English as it has begun to overtake academia and business.

Language is the construct of our communication and shapes our thoughts.  For this reason, we need to be careful and intentional in saying what we truly mean. 

Do you truly want to discourage the aspect of socialization?  Do you want to live in a way that is disconnected from your friends and loved ones?  Do you intend to socially isolate yourself?  That is what we imply as we regurgitate the phrase "social distancing".  I know that it seems like a small thing, but perpetuating that rhetoric is having a tremendous impact on our mental state, our culture, and our way of life. 

Have you ever seen so many people outside in the history of your life?  What are they doing?  What are they looking for? 

They are looking for others.  They are looking for connection.  They do not want to be alone, isolated, and cut off from their tribe.  They are looking for a smile, for eye contact. 

I would encourage you to deeply consider your language as we navigate this strange event.  We need others more than ever.  We need help, we need connection, we need to feel support, we need to feel that we are cared for.  Perhaps instead of using the term "social" distancing, we call it "physical distancing" or "physical isolation" or "separation".

You are not alone and you are not intended to be alone.  You have your community, those who love you, and those who are on your "ride or die" inner circle list.  Disconnecting from the human social fabric is not the new normal and it never will be.  Reach out to your people.  Even if you are physically separated, you are not socially removed.  We are not going out like this.  Hang on tight!  Have sisu!

Peace, love, sisu, and sending ridiculous amounts of double-armed, tight squeezing illegal hugs,
Ms. Daisy

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