Friday, March 5, 2010

A Little Tact Goes A Long Way

When I was young I aspired to become a member of the Foreign Service. I loved studying International Affairs and fancied myself 'quite good at it.' Only as time went on did I realize that one of the most important attributes a Foreign Service Officer could have was tact. They call it diplomacy. Ambrose Bierce called it, "lying for one's country." But he was NEVER about tact. And because I was young, I appreciated Ambrose Bierce much more than being tactful, I shelved that idea and moved on to the next.

Today's reading for Lent is about the Tactless Tongue. Most of us do not set out to be unkind or undiplomatic. But often we are. To quote the passage, "while honesty is indeed the best policy, it is not a license to say whatever we want."

To be sensitive to how others will receive a message requires great reliance on the Holy Spirit. But imagine if missionaries never bothered with tact. How would the Gospel move forward? And we all know that to speak the truth is important, but that the admonition is to "speak the truth in LOVE." (Ephesians 4:15)

A friend told me recently that her small child is disconcertingly truthful. Children are -- they say what is on their minds. And while that is often cute when they're three, it's really annoying when they're thirteen. I offered my friend the advice (I know, always dangerous) that she turn it around on the child by asking, "did you just speak the truth in LOVE?"

I love author Deborah Smith Pegues's last bit of advice in learning tact.  "When we find ourselves about to say something tactless, however, we can do what the Federal Communications Commission sometimes mandates broadcaster to do -- delay transmission.  We can review the words in our minds and evaluate their impact."

Again, I hear my mother and grandmother and teachers saying, "THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK!"

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