When we were young children, most of us probably did not understand the basics about tact nor even its meaning. Parents and other adults generally made allowances for this lacking out of understanding and tact. Eventually, most children do learn what it is and begin to speak and act with more skill and tactfulness. Eventually, by trial and error, we learn that tact is a great social lubricant.
The people who are either ignorant of tact or are purposely abrasive tend to repel others or at worst, inflame other people’s emotional reactions. Deliberately acting and speaking tactlessly is commonly known as “baiting”. Baiting is a cruel tactic often used by bullies and political commentators. Sadly, those who bait other people’s emotions have not learned that tact is a better way to interact socially. They seem to prefer bullying and manipulation in their desire to achieve domination over others.
The word tact derives from the latin word “tactus” which means to touch or handle. The word finally evolved from meaning a sense of feeling or touch towards the present definition of “a sense of discernment in action, conduct, and diplomacy.” In everyday life, tact is the ability to act and speak with great care and consideration for others without going overboard and becoming a doormat. Tact is a valuable social skill that a person can ill afford to neglect.
Anyone who has been paying attention to current events these days sees the lack of tact among politicians and their factions. Many of the leaders know how to speak forcefully with some semblance of fluency, organization, and persuasive skill. However, this only places their oratory skills into the category of demagoguery. The inflammatory speech is divisive and confrontational–often leading to violence and social destruction.
Meanwhile, the successful diplomat has honed the skill of empathy or a kind of mind-reading. Tactful behavior includes the understanding that everyone has concerns about existance and survival. The talented use of tact is an effective way to show that everyone’s best interests are being considered. One might say that tact is the art of calming an adversary by communicating your understanding about their concerns. In everyday use, tact is the ability to make a point without making an enemy. To be tactful is to be influential without crudeness.
Tact is one behavioral tool successful people utilize along with other aspects such as frugality, perserverance, study, work, and discipline. Tactfulness ties all of them together to enable understanding, cooperation, and progress. Without tact, we seldom learn and accomplish anything meaningful.
The beautiful thing about tact is that it enables happier relationships and enhances friendship. The closer one becomes in relation to another person, the more necessary it is to mindfully practice courtesy and tact.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 19th century English critic and novelist, Samuel Butler. “It is tact that is golden, not silence.”