Whenever the topics of preaching or apologetics come up, there is sure to be at least one voice raised in in warning: whatever else is said, however this is approached, it must be done "tactfully." I am generally one to agree that tact ought to be used when tact can be used, which is a number of situations. This is true to the extent that I even engaged in a series of discussions with several close friends about the meaning and end of "tact," and these discussions certainly bore plenty of fruit.Tact, indeed, is the root of "tactile," and essentially means "to touch." Thus, a "tactful" message is one presented in a way such that it "touches" another person, i.e. in such a way that he may "take it to heart."
Too often, "tact" is interpreted in such a way as to mean being "nice," by which is meant "not offending anybody," or "not hurting anybody's feelings." What is often meant by this is that we ought to tell other people what they want to hear and not what they really need to hear. In the era of political correctness, this often even means telling people what some nameless and quite possible spineless (or at least skinless) people have determined that a person should want to hear based on race, sex (which they label "gender"), age, and socio-economic status.
In any case, the two words "nice" and "tactful" have different meanings, even if they are often conflated and then further corrupted by the our society. Being tactful does not imply shying away from the truth, any more than being charitable does. Tact is, in fact, a form of charity, albeit one among many such forms. I can tactfully help a friend to overcome a great sin (and may find myself helped in return), and can tactfully help him to correct his faults, nudging him gently along the straight and narrow path.
Niceness, on the other hand, is often more about feeling good, which is the opposite of charity. I cannot nicely nudge a person in any direction, for nudging is not a "nice" thing to do. However, I can very nicely help my neighbor arrive into the very bowels of hell, putting a spring in his step and a smile on his face the whole way down.
If you liked this post or found it helpful, you might also like these other related posts:
"Judge Not" and Mercy
Tolerance, Charity, and Dignity (on the Nicene Guys Site)
Truth and Tolerance: A Review
If You Love the Sinners, Warn Them of the Sin
Argument and Motivation
Warnings and Ignorance
The Full Significance of the Rainbow
The Christian Society: Justice, Mercy, and Solidarity (Nicene Guys)