Truth & Tact: The Art of Loving People & Truth
Posted by Orrin Woodward on April 1, 2012
Truth and tact are two concepts that rarely mix; however, when they do, one knows that he is in the presence of leadership greatness. On one side, the world is filled with blowhards who will bluntly state truth while influencing no one, and honestly, even annoying those who agree with them. On the other side, are the people who refuse to share the truth for fear of causing offense. These people would rather see someone run a car off a cliff than offend him by urging him to slow down. Both extremes are wrong but, unfortunately, ubiquitous.
Imagine the leadership revolution that would be possible if we learned to speak truth in love. I know this may only be a dream, but it’s one I am willing to pursue. My life through twenty-five years of age was moving from one disastrous incident of lack of tact to the next. I’m not exaggerating here; I was clueless when it came to tact and truth. Sadly, my cluelessness hurt those closest to me. Although I have certainly improved in this area, not a day passes without catching myself lacking tact in some conversation. Indeed, I would say tact, next to character, has been the biggest stumbling block for many potential leaders.
Chris Brady states, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and it wasn’t until I started reading, listening, and associating with leaders that I realized how tactless I truly was. Where do you fall in the truth-tact continuum? Anyone can change, but he must first begin with a clear perspective on the truth of his current condition. Read the following excellent essay from the 19th-century writer J. R. Miller and honestly confront your current level of tact. Would to God that more people would confront reality on their current level of tact and choose to change.
I guess what I am saying is: Imagine if more people applied the unvarnished truth (while committing to change, grow, and win) upon themselves and loving tact upon others, instead of the current method of applying loving tact upon themselves and unvarnished truth upon others. Now that would be a LIFE revolution worth participating in!
“Evil is wrought by lack of thought—as well as lack of heart.”
True tact—is sanctified common sense. It is Christian love doing its proper and legitimate work. It is that wisdom which our Lord commended so heartily to the disciples as they went out among enemies and into a hostile world. It is at the same time as harmless as a dove. No one can read the New Testament thoughtfully, without seeing how love moves everywhere as the queen of all the graces. Truth is everywhere clothed in the warm and radiant beauty of charity. Positive, strong and mighty, it is ever gentle as the touch of a child’s finger. Someone has said that whoever makes truth unpleasant, commits high treason against virtue. The remark needs a qualification. There are unpleasant truths that must cause pain when faithfully spoken. Yet truth itself is always lovely, and we are not loyal to it when we present it in any way that will make it appear repulsive.
Christian tact is wise and loving thoughtfulness. It is that charity which is wisely gentle to all, which bears all things, which seeks not her own, which thinks no evil. It has an instinctive desire to avoid giving pain. It seeks to please all men for their good. It knows very well, that the surest way not to do men good, is to antagonize them and excite their opposition and enmity; therefore, as far as possible, it avoids all direct attack upon the life and opinions of others. It shows respect for the views of those who differ in sentiment or belief.
A wise writer has said, “When we would show anyone that he is mistaken, our best course is to observe on what side he considers the subject—for his view of it is generally right, on his side—and admit to him that he is right so far. He will be satisfied with this acknowledgment that he was not wrong in his judgment, though inadvertent in not looking at the whole of the case.” How much wiser and more effective this method, than that of violently assaulting the position of one who differs from us, as if we were infallible—and he and his opinions, were worthy only of our contempt! We can accomplish by indirection, what we could never do by direct methods.
In no class of work is this wise tact so much needed, as in trying to lead men to Christ. There is somewhere a ‘key to every heart’, and yet there are good and earnest men, to whom no heart opens. They have zeal without knowledge. Sanctified tact shows its skill in a thousand little ways, which no rules can mark out—but which win hearts and find acceptance for the living truth, and for the wondrous love of Christ. I believe it will be seen in the end, that many lives which might have been saved by the gentle methods which love teaches—have drifted away from Christ and been lost, through the unwisdom of workers.
Tact has a wonderful power in smoothing out tangled affairs. A pastor, with it, will harmonize a church composed of most discordant elements, and prevent a thousand strifes and quarrels, by saying the right word at the right time—and by quietly and wisely setting other influences to work to neutralize the discordant tendencies. A teacher possessed of this gift, can control the most unruly pupils and disarm mischief of its power to annoy and disturb the peace. In the home it is a most indispensable oil.
Quiet tact will always have the soft word, ready to speak in time to turn away anger. It knows how to avoid unsafe ground. It can put all parties into a good humor, when there is danger of difference or clashing. It is silent—when silence is better than speech.
Nothing else has so much to do with the success or failure of men in usefulness, as the possession or non-possession of tact. A man with great gifts and learning accomplishes nothing; while another, with not one-half of his natural powers or acquirements, far outstrips him in practical life. The difference lies in tact—in knowing the art of doing things. We need more than brains, and erudition. The talent of all which tells most effectively in life—is that which teaches us how to use the power we have. One person will do more good without learning—than another with his brain full of the knowledge of the ages.
Tact is no doubt largely a natural endowment—but it is also partly an art, and can be cultivated. The awkward man who is always swinging himself against someone, or treading down some tender flower—may acquire something of the grace of easy carriage. The harsh, brusque man may get a softer heart, and with it a softer manner. The man who is always saying the wrong word and paining someone, may at least learn to be silent on doubtful occasions. There is no better way to acquire this wonder-working tact—than by becoming filled with the spirit of Christ. Warm love in the heart for all men, unselfish, thoughtful, kind—will always find some beautiful way to perform its beneficent ministries.
A delicate kindness moves us—more than the sublimest exhibition of power. Gentleness is mightier than noise or force. The tiny flower growing high up on the cold, rugged mountain, amid ice and snow, impresses the beholder more than the great piles of granite that tower to the clouds. The soft shining of the sun can do more than the rude wintry blast—to make men unfasten their heavy garments and open their hearts to the influences of good.