The whole concept of tact has always been a bit alien to me. And as I just don't get it when people display tact toward me, I don't quite grasp how to deliver it to others either.
Mind you, I'm not really sure what value tact actually has. It feels too much like pointless white lies. And while I can perhaps see the value of not discussing the intimate details of my sex life with my Grandma, I can't understand why anyone would not want me to tell them the truth about most things in day to day life.
I like being told the truth. If someone tells me I've gained weight, that's fine. I've got a mirror and I'm bright enough to use it. If someone doesn't like my style of writing or my singing voice, I'm not going to get upset about it. To be honest, even if you called me a shrill beaked, illiterate hippopotamus, I'm still not going to get upset about it. I'm either going to reflect seriously on any value in the criticism or I'm going to laugh.
But the rest of the world doesn't seem to think the same way. Take a friend who has recently gained weight.... Either she already knows, in which case me telling her can't be that much of a shock. Or she hasn't noticed and I'm doing her a favour telling her. But nobody ever thanks you for telling them. In fact, people get quite cross. A classic case of shooting the messenger. So I've stopped putting myself on the firing line. My friends can pop as many buttons as they like, I'm staying quiet about it.
And its not just weight either. I'm expected to be quiet about my opinions in the interest of good manners. It isn't polite to tell my friend that her new orange and lime green striped wallpaper is the most revolting decor I've ever seen. So I just nod and smile and tell her I think its lovely. But what I don't understand is WHY I have to lie about it. Why will she be offended because I don't like her taste in decor? Does she need my agreement to validate her choice? Is she so insecure that she may have decorated badly that the slightest criticism will send her running for the gin bottle? Why should she care if I don't like her wallpaper....... She does! Surely that's all that matters?
Same with strangers. I've hesitated to tell people they've got their skirt caught in their knickers (you shouldn't be looking!) Or that it really might be an excellent time to blow their nose. And why can't I tell the man sitting next to me on the bus who obviously hasn't had a wash since Christmas that he stinks? Why is it ok for him to stink but not ok for me to comment on it?
Why is it fine for ten people to post a positive comment on a public forum praising a poem but as soon as I say its a bit crap, I'm the one at fault? I actually managed to offend a friend recently because I told him a poem (which he hadn't written) was rubbish. He was most offended because he liked the poem. Crazy. I'm not allowed to express an opinion just because it differs to yours?
And I have lost track of the number of times when I've been talking to someone who is spouting utter drivel but I'm socially obliged to look interested and pretend they know what they are talking about. Why can't I just say - "Now look here you ignorant so and so, stop spouting the wikipedia and bugger off?"
I've perfected the "interested in what you have to say face," but that's one expression I should never have to put my facial muscles through. Why oh why can't I just tell the truth...?
(Although to be fair I did use the phrase "absolute idiocy" the other day in a debate with regard to my friend's viewpoint (after saying that in my opinion he was thick as a brick) and to his credit, he just laughed. That's a mate worth keeping forever!)
I don't know why people avoid the truth so much. I wonder if they struggle to handle it. Can they not cope with the reality that they've gained a few pounds or chosen a vile wallpaper? Do they take an opinion that differs from theirs as a personal criticism? Are people now so cosseted from reality that the truth really has started to hurt? I've learned the rules of the game and I play it because I really can't be bothered not to. Its easier to jump through the hoops of tact and diplomacy than to deal with the self conscious hysteria of those who like to live with their head firmly planted in the sand.
So I may get called a shrill beaked, illiterate hippopotamus occasionally but I don't think I will ever get the chance to fling that or indeed any other insult back without repercussions. And you know, when you think about it, that's kind of sad.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1067071 (canoo)
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