“He … pulled … my tooth … out … with a tartar scraper!” I cried out between sniffles. I trudged out of the dentist’s examination room, my face splotchy from crying, my cheek swollen with a bulge of gauze underneath. I buried my head in my father’s arms as he sat in the waiting room.
“He what?” My dad pulled me out at arm’s length and looked into my eyes. I repeated my words. My dad’s face changed from concern to anger. “I’ll be right back.”
My dad left me with my brother in the waiting room as he went to have “words” with the dentist. The dentist reasoned that my baby tooth was infected and was going to come out eventually, so he reached into my mouth with a tartar scraper and yanked it out without any anesthesia or words of warning.
We never went back to that dentist.
The dentist made a correct assessment in noticing the problem in my mouth. My tooth was infected and should have been removed, but the glaring deficit in the dentist’s bedside manner … was that he didn’t have any. He lacked tact.
Tact (noun): adroitness and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues.
When it is glaringly evident that someone else has a major infection in their life, it is not our job to rush in and yank out the problem with a tartar scraper. If we are sojourning this life together, we need to cultivate a bit more bedside manner and use some tact.
Life is messy and hard. Problems can swirl around us like tornadoes and catch us off-guard, but that doesn’t give us permission to “fix” the problem and hurt others in the process.
So let’s put some meat on these bones. Let’s say you know someone who is dealing with a sexual sin. Let’s say that this sin has messed up their marriage, and they aren’t sure what to do anymore. Their problem is obvious to you, but they are at a loss for what direction they should step into. So you pull out your tartar scraper and you start hacking away. You tell them “just stop sinning” or “just give it to God.” When in reality, they need you to walk alongside them as they wade through their mess. They need you to bear their burden with them.
Carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the requirements of the law of Christ [that is, the law of Christian love]. –Galatians 6:2 (AMP)
So what does tact look like? Tact is offering empathy before advice. Empathy is crawling into the dentist chair beside them, feeling what they feel, and reassuring them that you’ll not abandon them in their time of need. Empathy isn’t having all the answers. Empathy is knowing you’re not sure how to help, but you’ll be here to be a good listener. You’ll be available to point their heart to the Lord, without condemnation or judgment. You’ll be determined in being a good friend and loving like Jesus.
Utilizing tact is being purposeful in how you help people through their messy issues of life.
The dentist was lazy and didn’t take the time to give me a local anesthesia or to talk me through what he needed to do to my tooth so that my mouth would remain healthy. Even though his judgment was fair, his approach destroyed the relationship.
We get lazy and don’t take the time to help people through their issues, to help them attain emotional health. We get uncomfortable with their mess, so instead we just reach in with a tartar scraper, start yanking, and then run for cover. But we were meant for more than this. We were meant to live this life with the give-and-take that blesses the Lord.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. –Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NLT)