Building the case against tact

April 27, 2006

Technically, you’re not supposed to talk about religion or politics at the dinner table.

I found this out last summer, having dinner with my then-girlfriend’s parents for the first time, when I answered an innocent question from her father about my job working for a democratic political candidate. He was a venture capitalist, and a rather conservative one at that. Me? Well, I do work for The Voice.

What ensued was an hour-long interrogation, as our uneaten dinners grew cold and my girlfriend and her mother stared in horror. At first I gamely tried to change the subject, but was quickly drawn into a blur of increasingly strident arguments. By the end of the meal, exhausted and hungry, we agreed to disagree.

A social faux pas? Probably. In retrospect, it was a lot more exciting than any other meet-the-parents conversation I could imagine.

Perhaps tact is overrated—politeness and social graces may be pleasant, but they’re also boring. Perhaps our new policy on social interaction ought to be debilitating honesty.

Isn’t behind-the-back gossip getting tiresome? Sure, it might preserve some precious self-esteem, but at the end of the day your entire social group is left in the dark, with only glances and winks to indicate who’s in and who’s out. As any economist will tell you, uncertain information leads to bad decisions. Situations would be clearer if we could all be a little less deceitful and just start to blatantly call out when girls are flirting with your roommate or deliver a devastating yet encouaging pep talk to the poser.

For instance, a friend and I once passed two girls that he knew well and I knew only vaguely. Turning to him, I noted that one of them was good looking, to whit, a “stone fox.” A day or so later, he told her friend what I said, and the phrase, complete with attribution, ended up on their white board. Attending a party at their apartment a week later, I was formally introduced to the stone fox as the “guy from the white board.” Turning to see the quote on board, my face fell. Turning back to see the look on her face was even worse. Embarrassing yes, but, hell, the message was clear. It saved me from weeks of thinking I had a chance with her.

Besides, with the advent of Facebook and the rest of the Internet, privacy is a thing of the past. Humiliating pictures are going to be posted of you on the Internet after a party no matter what, so pull it together and realize you have a choice: either quit being ridiculous, or be even more ridiculous. After all, you have a reputation to uphold.

Tact is really just lying to people to get what you want. I was always under the impression that honesty is the best policy. Tact spares people’s feelings, but isn’t it better to be honestly criticized instead of going through life with a false impression of yourself? More importantly, too much tact can lead down a slippery slope of lies.

Look the at politicians people like—they are called straight-talkers and trustworthy. The others equivocate, dissemble or just spin. But the spinners are usually winners, and that might be one reason why our current government tends toward incompetence. If society actually rewarded bluntness, people might be more uncomfortable, but no one would be trying to convince you that WMD are still in Iraq.

So, go, talk about religion and politics at the dinner table. If that dress makes them look fat, say so. Your life will be more exciting, and your endeavors more successful because of it. But please, don’t tell me what you think of this article.

Read More

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments