Wisely labeled “the saving virtue,” tact graces a life like fragrance graces a rose. One whiff of those red petals erases any memory of the thorns.
Tact is like that. It’s remarkable how peaceful and pleasant it can make us. Its major goal is avoiding unnecessary offense . . . and that alone ought to make us crave it. Its basic function is a keen sense of what to say or do in order to maintain the truth and good relationships . . . and that alone ought to make us cultivate it. Tact is savoir faire on the horizontal plane. It is incessantly appropriate, invariably attractive, incurably appealing, but rare . . . oh, so rare!
Remember the teacher you had who lacked tact? Learning was sacrificed daily on the altar of fear. You wondered each session if that was the day you’d be singled out and embarrassed through some public put-down.
Remember the salesperson you encountered who lacked tact? Once you found out (and it usually doesn’t take sixty seconds), you wanted only one thing—to get away.
Remember the boss you worked for who lacked tact? You never knew if he ever understood you or considered you to be a valuable person.
And who could forget that tactless physician? You weren’t a human being, you were Case 36—a body with a blood pressure of 120/70 . . . height 5’7″ . . . weight 160 . . . a history of chronic diarrhea . . . stones in your gall bladder—”and you need radical surgery immediately!” All this was spoken in perfect monotone as he glared grimly at a folder stuffed with X-rays, charts, and long sheets of paper covered with advanced hieroglyphics. Brilliant, capable, experienced, dignified, respected . . . but no tact.
Perhaps you heard about the husband who lacked tact. Early one morning his wife left for a trip abroad . . . and that very day their poodle died. When she called home that evening, she asked how everything was—and he bluntly blurted out, “Well, the dog died!” Shocked, she chided him through tears for being so tactless, so strong.
“What should I have said?” he asked.
“You should have broken the news gently, perhaps in stages. When I called you from here in New York, you could have said, ‘The dog is on the roof.’ And the next day when I called you from London, ‘He fell off the roof.’ The following day from Paris, you could have told me, ‘He is at the vet’s . . . in the hospital.’ And finally, from Rome, I could have then been informed, ‘He died.'”
The husband paused and thought about the advice. His wife then asked, “By the way, how is mother?”
He responded, “She’s on the roof!”
Ah, that’s bad. But it isn’t the worst. The classic example of tactless humanity, I’m disappointed to declare, is the abrasive Christian (so-called) who feels it is his or her calling to fight for the truth with little or no regard for the other fella’s feelings. Of course, this is supposedly done in the name of the Lord. “To do anything less,” this tactless individual intones with a pious expression, “would be compromise and counterfeit.” So on he goes, plowing through people’s feelings like a clumsy John Deere tractor, leaving everyone he encounters buried in the dirt and, worst of all, deeply offended.
He may speak the truth but nobody wants to listen—and nobody wants to draw nearer to the Savior.