Finding Balance (Three Selves Joined)

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How can a Batak individual manage to get through a day if all these “selves” are in constant competition? Many Bataks clearly give little thought to this issue: instead, they try to satisfy their bodily cravings and spiritual needs the best they can, and follow the habits of cultural tradition in doing so. Conflicts of self usually arise only for those people who seek change in their lives, or who choose to behave in ways not ordinarily sanctioned by the traditional culture. One of my Batak friends, a man of great exuberances and intense melancholies, told me that his true desire in life had been to write novels and short stories. As a youth, he completed several such stories for pub�lication, and had begun sketching out a novel. I asked him what happened to his dream. He replied that his passion to write (the purview of the tondi) was thwarted by his fear of correction and rejection (feelings that are the purview of his more practical personality). This situation had created a huge conflict inside him, something that manifested itself as aimlessness and an urge to gamble. He left all his plans behind when he married and had his first child, since his most pressing obligations were now to his family. He told me that the “stres” (Indonesian for the English loanword stress) of trying to balance his desires, fears, and obligations to family and tradition were almost too much to take. Some Bataks leave the homeland to escape these pressures, but he decided to raise a family while he was still young. “Later,” he said, “when I am old, maybe my fears will go away and let me feed my tondi.” When I encountered him again several years later, he had not yet started to write his stories, but had managed to make a small fortune on a winning lottery ticket.

 

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