1997 was a big year in my life. One of those defining years; after which, no one can be the same.
Suffice it to say, during my tenth year I became emotionally withdrawn. I forgot how to smile. I forgot to acknowledge emotion much less communicate effectively what I was feeling. I didn't make much headway with this until I was 18 and didn't really figure it out until I was 22.
Because of this, I am a very tactless person. I simply can't see why someone else would be offended when I do or say something that ought to be obvious.
I've been working on that character flaw, but I fear my no-nonsense personality and divide-and-conquer approach to life's little circumstances doesn't leave much room for pussy-footing around issues.
I can remember one time when I was in grade school two of my friends had a crush on the same boy. He was in our class and this little rift between my friends was quite distracting. So, I took it into my own hands to fix the situation. I told the boy about how my friends were fighting over him and could he please talk to them both. The girls were mortified. They united for the first time in weeks in ostracizing me. I had betrayed them and was punished with the silent treatment. I cried a lot. I knew that I have behaved inappropriately. The thing is, the boy they were fighting over actually did talk to the girls and the little love triangle was resolved rather quickly. I felt as though my actions were, ultimately, correct; I had simply executed without finesse.
Another instance: this one took place when I was much older. One of my friends had been seeing a boy. After several dates and the exchange of personal favors, he told her that he actually wasn't interested in dating her. My close-knit group of friends and I discussed the situation and we were livid on behalf of our friend -- thinking that she had been wrongfully used. Many grand statements were made about what would happen to the boy if he chose to come within spitting distance. As it happened, we all saw him very soon after these fiery vows were made. I approached and delivered the rehearsed speech and turned receive support from my friends, only to discover that they had abandoned me during my passionate rant. When I spoke with the friend who had been "wronged" and found that she had parted amicably with the boy. She told me that she appreciated my sturdy friendship but would I, please, never interfere in that manner again. I was very embarrassed and promised to keep my mouth closed. I apologized to the boy the next time I saw him but was still supremely embarrassed for years after.
Then I think of an instance, recently, when I did things correctly. Working at EFY this summer we had a boy who soon became very well acquainted with the health counselors. Every day he had another complaint and his pain or discomfort could never really be qualified. By Thursday I was at my wit's end. I had no idea how to react to the boy much less help him. That's when his counselor approached me and told me of the wild stories he had been telling his group. I counseled with her and told her to believe him as far as she could, downplay his stories, and keep him in the group. I told her to love him. Then I called the boy's mother. Over a patchy connection we were able to communicate what the boy had been doing that week and how it related to his past. I discovered the truth behind his stories as well as the fantastic tales he told for attention and why he needed attention. It was as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I finally understood how to react to this very interesting young man! I could sympathize. I understood. I knew how he needed to be treated and how to do so with the dignity and respect. I wanted to share my new-found freedom of understanding with everyone who had been affected by his needs and I wasted no time in tracking down the counselors who had been in contact with the boy. When more information was discovered concerning why this boy was behaving oddly, my heart swelled with further understanding and I was able to assess the situation more fully and in a more tender manner. I have never felt so in control of myself as when I was tenderly speaking with the boy and comprehending not only what he was saying but why he was saying certain things. I had become acquainted with charity in it's purest form. What a miracle! Tact wasn't merely something I had to practice in that situation; it was the only way. I cared too much to risk offense when I saw so clearly how to avoid embarrassment for my charge. I understood.
So, while I am still quite tactless, I do know that sympathy and empathy for another's plight will help me to behave appropriately. If I can make a personal connection and seek to understand the point of view held by another, I will not fail at caring for them in the most tender manner. The most amazing thing is that in order to understand a person I don't need them to understand me in return. But, what a miracle it would be to have mutual understanding with another. If that could happen, no feelings would ever be damaged.