American novelist Josiah Gilbert wrote, “The secret of man’s success resides in his insight into the mood of people and his tact in dealing with them.”
Historian William Simms said, “Tact is one of the first mental virtues; the absence of it is fatal to the best talent.”
Tact has been defined as sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues, and the ability to appreciate the delicacy of a situation and to do or say the kindest or most fitting thing.
Music educator Hugh Percy Allen said, “Tact is the rare ability to keep silent while two friends are arguing, and you know both of them are wrong.”
It has also been described as the ability to stay in the middle without getting caught there, the art of making a point without making an enemy and intelligence of the heart.
2 Timothy 2:24 says, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.” — New Living Translation.
Jesus was outstanding in perceiving people’s feelings and discerning how best to treat them kindly. Consider the case of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, recorded at Luke 7:36-50.
When Jesus was dining in the house of a Pharisee named Simon, a woman known in the city to be a sinner approached him and kneeled at his feet. She brought a case of perfumed oil. Then she started to cry, her tears falling upon Jesus’ feet.
No one said a word to her as she wiped away her tears off his feet with her long hair. She then kissed Jesus’ feet and greased them with the perfumed oil. Jesus, being tactful, recognized what all of this meant.
Even though Simon did not say a word, Jesus was able to discern that Simon was saying within himself (in verse 39), “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.”
Imagine the harm he would have caused had Jesus pushed the woman away. Imagine the embarrassment had Jesus said to Simon, “You hypocrite! Can’t you see that she is repentant?” Instead, Jesus tactfully gave Simon a parable about a man who forgave a person a large debt and forgave another person a much smaller debt.
Then he asked Simon in verse 42, “Which of them will love him most?” When Simon gave the correct answer in verse 43, Jesus was able to commend him for his correct reply rather than condemn Simon for his attitude toward the woman.
Then he kindly helped Simon to recognize the proof that the woman had repented. Jesus then kindly indicated to her that he understood her feelings and told her that her sins were forgiven.
In this case we see how tact can be used to rub out another’s mistakes without rubbing them in. Jesus observed how people felt and responded with kindness, the hallmark of true tact. What are the benefits?
Being kind and diplomatic wins over people and makes you closer to others because you are less likely to offend them. It also gives one a sense of satisfaction in knowing how to deal with others tactfully. As Proverbs 15:23 says, “Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!” — New Living Translation.
This is especially true with family members and close friends. Often times people feel they can “be themselves” with relatives and close associates. They may even yell, criticize, speak harshly and act rude in the company of those who are familiar with them, reserving their best manners for strangers.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become.”
In fact, God’s Word advises at Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” — New World Translation.
Parents, particularly fathers, are told at Ephesians 6:4, “Do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” — New Living Translation.
Can you imagine how much better your family and friends will feel if you tried to be more tactful with them in the future? Your relationship with God will also improve. It could mark the return of good manners in the world. OK. Maybe just in your world. But hey, can you think of a better place to start?