Columnist J.M. Sorrell: Resistance to reality

Published: 01-03-2023 4:10 PM

Humans have a tremendous capacity to deny and ridicule reality. Wisdom comes from seeing things as they are whereas foolishness rules when we engage in willful ignorance. Our fears or arrogance regarding tough truths are counter to evolution; yet we persist in believing stories that comfort us rather than hard facts.

I understand zoning out for recreation. Fiction literature and well-made films may be uplifting or tear-jerkers that spark imagination or help us to relax. This is distinct from ignoring facts in our everyday lives. We may hurt ourselves or others when we avoid reality.

Contemporary examples include the COVID pandemic, climate disaster, end of life decision-making, the insurrection at the Capitol, and the legacy of racism and xenophobia in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Pretending that no action is needed is our undoing. I am no purist. For instance, I eat small amounts of meat and fish despite loving animals and knowing that one of the worst ongoing global tragedies is the miserable short lives humans create for animals so we can consume them or use their body parts for shoes and bags.

I was reminded about my hypocrisy when I read Sarah Smarsh’s recent guest essay in the New York Times ( She is not a purist either; however, as someone who grew up on a working farm, she has an ethical perspective about large-scale slaughtering. I naturally consume less as I pay more for dairy and meat from smaller farms with more humane practices. It is a step I began taking years ago, yet it is not a giant leap.

Pretending we are “post-COVID” has catastrophic effects for people everywhere. I wish I had a nickel for every time I conveyed that we should all wear N-95 masks in public indoor settings and outside in crowds. In the past month, I have discovered that my behavior is shared by a small and growing movement of public health and medical experts and others. I found my people at the People’s CDC. Learn about them at Like me, they rightfully distrust the CDC given their irresponsible advice these last two and a half years.

The People’s CDC “is a coalition of public health practitioners, scientists, healthcare workers, educators, advocates and people from all walks of life working to reduce the harmful impacts of COVID-19.” They are honest about how we need to adjust our behavior with the goal of ending the pandemic. This means cooperating and caring about our fellow human beings while being rooted in reality rather than engaging in the fantasy that we can return to pre-pandemic habits.

We are realizing the results of our greed and resistance to reality with climate disaster. Each of us can engage in small and large ways to mitigate the damage, and I imagine many readers do more than I do and some do less. It all counts.

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When it comes to planning for medical emergencies and end-of-life planning, Americans are in denial about something each of us has in common: our mortality. Please get your health care proxy and durable power of attorney documents in order. As a health care advocate of many years, I have observed patients and families in turmoil because they did not communicate their wishes in advance and they did not complete legal paperwork. Dying is no fun but there are good deaths and bad deaths. My dad had a good death because he felt he had organized as much as possible and he was supported in his choices.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Their full report is available as a pdf document, and I have begun to read it. Committee members and people who gave testimony persisted to set the record straight despite the constant ridicule by Republicans who preferred to deny the reality of mostly white domestic terrorism. The House Sergeant at Arms told the committee that deadly force would have been used if the attackers were black.

Centuries-old systemic racism and the perennial effects have been examined by historians and sociologists significantly during this century, and there are more white accomplices to combat racism than in previous generations. The ensuing backlash is predictable, and I am reminded of James Baldwin’s warning: “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

When we own and address the reality of injustices and problems we can heal and do things differently. Inconvenient truths met with duty is how everyday heroes are born. I will continue to binge on Netflix series such as Borgen and Black Mirror while I seek to act more responsibly in real life. Joy and obligation can co-exist.

J.M. Sorrell is a feminist at her core. She has a high pleasure principle alongside her role and commitment to justice, equity and kind acts.]]>