The Reality Distortion Field

Two very different stories in today's New York Times really struck me in terms of how plainly they reveal our human willingness to bend reality to make it conform to our own personal agenda for how reality should be.

The first article was a story about a woman who in 2004 pled guilty in the death of her then boyfriend who was killed in an automobile accident while she was driving. Her conviction has now been overturned in the aftermath of a NY Times article from May of this year that reported that General Motors considered the death to have been caused by the now widely-reported faulty ignition switch problem in GM cars.

What struck me about this article was the following reference to how the ignorance of the district attorney and the investigating police trooper knew and did not know at the time:

That district attorney… and the police trooper who investigated Ms. Anderson’s accident, whose report strongly suggested that Ms. Anderson’s driving had been influenced by intoxication, had both said that if the ignition-switch defect has been pulicly known at the time of the crash, certain details fo the accident — like the seemingly inexplicable lack of skid marks or evasive action — would have been seen differently.

It appears that the “intoxication” referred to was, as per the toxicology report, trace amounts of Xanax. Nonetheless, in the absence of any other incriminating evidence (and in the face of what I presume was a strong desire to to wrap up the case and exact some form of justice) a woman was charged, tried and convicted of a horrible crime with which she actually had nothing to do. 

The other article, entitled Calling out Bill Cosby’s Media Enablers, Including Myself, was a mea culpa about the media’s complicity (including that of the article’s author) in overlooking what was apparently widely known in certain media circles regarding Bill Cosby's alleged pattern of victimizing women throughout his career.

Answering his own question about why it took so long for the media to report on Mr. Cosby’s alleged sexist behavior, the author hits the nail on the head:

What took so long is that those in the know kept it mostly to themselves. No one wanted to disturb the natural Order of Things, which was that Mr. Cosby was beloved; he was as generous and partners as his public image; and that his approach to life and work represented a bracing corrective to the course, self=defeating urban black ethos. [Emphasis added.]

Only the first of those things was actually true.

When it comes to distorting reality, it is our ego that is always at the helm. And ego abhors being wrong almost as much as it abhors being in the unknown. And in this sense, we all create and live in our own version of a reality distortion field. We don’t just seek comfort in the face of pain, safety in the face of anxiety and certainty in the face of the inexplicable. We will them to exist even if it means distorting the truth… even if it means that someone else might be hurt.

But at the end of the day, creating our own reality distortion field does not change reality, only our perception of it. The “Natural Order of Things” is that the reality we live in is ultimately born of mystery and firmly rooted in the unknown. And the more we help ourselves, our ego, surrender to that perennial truth, the easier life becomes not just for each of us personally but for all of us collectively.