The Telos

The ancient Greeks had a very interesting idea that I have always been fascinated by—they called it “Telos”.  The basic idea involved the belief that all things in nature have an ideal version of themselves, which they can become when conditions are agreeable. 

For example, when conditions such as natural environment are right a tiny acorn can grow into an awesome oak tree, a creeping caterpillar can become a fluttering butterfly, an apple seed can become an apple tree… These transformations are amazing and thinking about them always makes me wonder:

What about people?

What is the telos of a person or what grand thing could a person possibly become?

Sorry, I don’t have the answer. And if I did I doubt I would be able to explain it in this blog. But I do feel confident saying that whatever positive possibilities may exist, they are impeded, thwarted and often destroyed by the conditions of addiction. In fact, I often say that beyond the formal definition, addiction is well-described as a thief, slowly but surely stealing and sacrificing the greatest treasures of human life.

Treasures such as potential.

This metaphor describes the arch of almost all addictions but has an uncanny applicability when applied to problem gambling. Typical gambling includes loss, but for the casual gambler this loss is voluntary, a trade-off for an evening’s entertainment. But in the mind and life of the problem gambler self-control has been corrupted by the overwhelming power of our brain’s biochemistry, and this critical change makes gambling, and the losses it produces, involuntary.

These losses focus on money, but extend to every area of a person’s life. And when we witness these consequences we see that problem gambling makes people lose things much more valuable than financial status. Over time, problem gambling typically hurts and/or destroys the invaluable assets of human life… health, wealth, love, family, work, peace and of course potential.

And this is perhaps the greatest tragedy we see, and in another sense, don’t see.  

How could we see, be or become responsible parents or a reliable sibling or a loving spouse or a diligent employee or a really good friend, or anything else we would like to be, when that potential to be our best selves is enslaved to a desire which drives us to be the opposite? In fact, problem gambling routinely commonly causes previously responsible, reliable, diligent and loving people of all sorts to lose their ideals and gamble away an unknown amount of positive possibilities.

And when I consider all of this I can feel how remarkably tragic the loss is and it makes me think of the Buddhist saying:

“The only real failure is to not to be true to the best one knows.”


I mentioned earlier that disorders such as problem gambling are like a thief stealing life’s greatest treasures. If problem gambling is stealing important things from you or someone you care about feel free to contact us. We have a network of helpful resources and a simple desire to help friends, family and loved ones become the best version of themselves.