Maté: People have a need for meaning and for belonging. But this society defines the value of a human being by how much they can either produce or consume. For all our talk about human values, we don’t really value humans for who they are. We value them for what they either give or purchase.
In other cultures, elders are considered to be people with wisdom, with experience, with a contribution to make. In our society, we don’t talk about elders, we talk about ‘the elderly’ – in other words, we define them by their age. And once they’re no longer either producers or consumers, they lose their value. We know that the more isolated people are, the more likely they are to get sick and the more likely they are to die of their illness. This is a society that isolates people.
TS: Is there a way to be “in this world, but not of it," so to speak?
Maté: The only way to live healthy in this culture is to be in it but not of it. And that means being able to see through a value structure that has materialism as its highest goal. By materialism, I mean that the control and possession of material goods are seen as the greatest obsessions. And the people that are seen as the highest achievers are the ones who acquire and wield more material control than other people do. To buy into that is to limit our human capacity, and therefore, to limit human health.
TS: How can a person break through that?
Maté: Does the person see the connection between their lack of joy or their depression or their mental illness or their alienation from work or life or nature – do they see it as a problem? If they don’t see it as a problem, then there’s no point of giving any type of advice.
More people are questioning; are we heading in the right direction? Do we hold the right set of values? Is it serving our physical and mental health? Is it serving our spiritual health? And by the way, that’s one of the failures of the medical system - is that it considers people only in physical terms. The fact that people have emotional needs is kind of recognized but the relationship of that to illness is not recognized. And the fact that we have spiritual needs? We don’t even talk about that.
TS: Why do you think that is?
Maté: Because the essence of capitalism is to reduce things to commodities. Or to reduce people to things that consume commodities. Everything else is secondary. So we have a lot of religion but very little spirituality.