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Dr. Gabor Maté: The Power of Addiction, the Addiction to Power

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Across four decades of work on issues of trauma, addiction, childhood development, stress, and illness, Dr. Gabor Maté has become an internationally recognized thinker, author, and public speaker. But his brilliance is only one side of the coin. The other side, evident in all his remarks, is profound compassion. In this TED talk, both qualities are on full display.

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you may already be familiar with Dr. Gabor Maté. Here at Allies, we’re big fans, and have highlighted some of his most compelling ideas in earlier posts. But again, even more than his scholarship, it’s the depth of caring that always comes through:

If the success of a doctor is to be measured by how long his patients live, then I am a failure, because my patients die very young, relatively speaking. They die of HIV, they die of hepatitis C, they die of infections of their heart valves, they die of infections of their brains, of their spines, of their hearts, of their bloodstream. They die of suicide, of overdose, of violence, of accidental deaths.

One of Gabor’s talents is making connections between ideas that are both complex and emotionally fraught. In this 2012 TED talk in Brazil, he starts with a challenge to the audience: “If you want to understand addiction, you can’t look at what’s wrong with the addiction, you have to look at what’s right about it. In other words, what is the person getting from the addiction?” His answer is straightforward: “Release from pain…a sense of peace, a sense of control, a sense of calmness—very, very temporarily.”

The next part of his speech explores where the pain comes from (“You can’t look at their genetics; you have to look at their lives”) and why we must meet that pain with love, care, and respect (“we judge the drug addict because we actually see that they are just like us, and we don’t like that”). Finally—in perhaps the most startling turn of all—he discusses the great emptiness at the heart of so many of the mightiest people on earth. Like all of us, he says, that void inside calls out for healing. Addicts may seek healing (in vain) from their drug of choice. For dictators, warlords, billionaires, says Gabor Maté, that drug is power.

You will not soon forget this address.

P.S. In addition to the video, a complete transcript of Dr. Maté’s remarks are available by clicking here.

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