One of the joys of my current lifestyle is that my interactions with other people are limited almost exclusively to people of my choosing. None of that biting of the tongue that is part and parcel of working day-to-day with other people. No smiling politely while enduring the unpleasant, sometimes ugly, pronouncements of the envious, the disdainful, the insecure (you know, all that offensive crap people preface with "Don't take this personally, but..."). No deciding whether to keep still or take on someone who spouts sexist or racist or other bigoted bullshit. The only offensive or dopey interaction I really have to contend with is on TV or in the news and, thanks to TiVo and the ability to skim, I can effectively limit my exposure to that.
But there's a downside to living in this lovely bubble, and that's a narrowing of perspective. Annoying or inflammatory as other people's opinions and attitudes may be, they're very useful as perspective-broadeners. Now that I'm detached from the necessity of engaging with them, I keep finding myself astonished by things. The popularity of reality TV, the bargain-basement levels of customer service that pass as acceptable virtually across the board, the fact that people are actually seriously considering John McCain as a legitimate presidential candidate, the cult of celebrity that catapults no-talent faux Lolitas into lucrative renown (if not prestige), the revived acceptability even among women of sexist prejudices and behavior - it all shocks me.
Attractive as the idea sometimes seems, I've decided against withdrawing altogether and completing a transformation into curmudgeonly disengagement. Instead, I'm learning to ask myself "What if I'm totally wrong?" every time something strikes me as insane or not even remotely possible. It's a very interesting process. Although I don't change my opinion very often - I may be out of the thought mainstream now, but I operated within it for decades and I still trust my instincts - the notion that I could be holding the wrong end of the stick, reaction-wise, is an eye-opening starting point. Maybe normal people find reality TV entertaining. Maybe Jessica Simpson really is hot. Maybe she really is talented. Maybe McCain isn't just old and weird. Maybe people don't care enough about quality customer service to make it worthwhile for companies to offer it. Maybe women - no, that's an angle I'll never concede.