• Photograph by Briarpatch

Gabor Maté Part 2: On Storytelling, Health, and the Ruling Class

Recently, Upstream's founder Ryan Meili got the chance to sit down and interview Dr. Gabor Maté about his new writing project and the intersection between health & politics.

Dr. Gabor Maté is the award-winning author of the books When the Body Says NoHold On To Your Kids, and In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.

This is Part 2 of the conversation. Read Part 1 here.

One of the things we’ve been hoping with Upstream is that human health can be easier to grasp than larger topics like environmental sustainability. Not that it’s that difficult to get across, just that a massive climatic shift compared to the suffering of someone exposed to environmental damage, or the improved health someone has when an environmental threat is removed, can reach people in a more personal way.

One of the things you do in your work that influenced the way I wrote A Healthy Society is use stories of patients and your own story to illustrate your points. That’s one of the approaches we’re taking with Upstream. Can you talk at all about why you choose to use that method?

For me, the stories I tell and the theoretical or scientific points I make are not separable. The science or the research I present is relevant only because the issues that the research illuminates make a difference to people. The truth of it shows up in the lives of actual human beings. When I write my books I want people to understand certain issues in a different way and one way to illustrate that is through the experience of other human beings that people can actually relate to.

The science or the research I present is relevant only because the issues that the research illuminates make a difference to people.

The most gratifying feedback that I get for In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is people who say “this book caused me to look at addiction in a different way, and I’ll never look at an addict with the same judgment and the same disdain as I used to. And not only that, I recognize that I have some of the same issues in myself.” That’s made most clear through the stories of individual people. That’s why I tell the stories.

Is that also why you share some of the stories of the addictive behaviours in your own life?

I’ve done that in all my books. That kind of candour, or self-revelation, was in my very first book, Scattered Minds, on Attention Deficit Disorder. I tell my own story because people have such shame around their dysfunctions. They’re afraid to own it themselves or talk about it to other people because they’re so critical of themselves.

And they think it’s only them.

They think it’s only them, and they’re alone with it. The essence of shame is that I’m alone with this miserable secret. For me, I have no shame about it, because my dysfunction is my dysfunction. I didn’t create it, I wasn’t born with it, it’s not who I am. It reflects certain coping patterns that I developed in response to my environment. Yeah, I’m responsible for it, but not because I’m a bad or shameful person, but because responsibility is what it means to be a mature human being. It’s not like I’m doing anything very courageous in sharing it, it’s just the truth about the human mind and the human ego, and I’m just an example of it. But it also allows other people to look at themselves without feeling that shame.

Read Part 2 of the conversation in Briarpatch Magazine here.

Find out more about Dr. Mate and his work on his website here.


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