Tact is underrated these days, when blunt honesty seems to be valued above all else. But being honest need not require rudeness. Tact is the ability to say what you think while valuing the other person as well. Tact goes by many names–diplomacy, sensitivity, discretion, savoir faire–whatever you call it, it is the ability to make your point in a kind manner, even if your message is itself unpleasant. The accomplished woman–or anyone who’s accomplished at people skills–knows how to make her point in such a way that she doesn’t offend the other person.
If you’re at all acquainted with Anne of Green Gables, then Rachel Lynde is no doubt familiar to you as the busybody neighbor who insults Anne so cruelly when she first arrives in Avonlea. Even L. M. Montgomery had to resort to sarcasm to describe Mrs. Lynde: “Mrs Rachel was one of those delightful and popular people who pride themselves on speaking their mind without fear or favour.”
Rachel Lynde was one of those people who valued blunt honesty above all else. She lacked tact–which meant she was insulting friends and neighbors all over town with her lack of regard for the feelings of others. The citizens of Avonlea doubtless wished Mrs. Rachel had better control of her tongue. If she ever asked their advice, they would have wanted her to know these tips to improve her social graces:
- Don’t give harsh criticism under the guise of being “honest.” Mrs. Lynde criticizes Anne cruelly upon their first meeting: “Well, they didn’t pick you for your looks, that’s sure and certain…. She’s terrible skinny and homely, Marilla. Come here, child, and let me have a look at you. Lawful heart, did anyone ever see such freckles? And hair as red as carrots!”
- Don’t be alarmist. “Well, I hope it will turn out all right,’ said Mrs. Rachel in a tone that plainly indicated her painful doubts. ‘Only don’t say I didn’t warn you if he burns Green Gables down or puts strychnine in the well.”
- Don’t be a busybody. “Few things in Avonlea ever escaped Mrs. Lynde. It was only that morning Anne had said, ‘If you went to your own room at midnight, locked the door, pulled down the blind, and sneezed, Mrs. Lynde would ask you the next day how your cold was!’”
- Don’t give advice unless asked. “Mrs. Lynde dearly loved to be asked for advice.” Mrs. Lynde could truly give excellent advice–but it doesn’t do any good to dole out good advice if nobody wants to hear it. Wait to be asked.
- Give advice in limited quantities. According to Anne, “[Mrs. Lynde's] advice is much like pepper, I think … excellent in small quantities but rather scorching in her doses.”
- Don’t nag. In the words of Marilla, “I sometimes think she’d have more of an influence for good…if she didn’t keep nagging people to do right. There should have been a special commandment against nagging.”
- Don’t kick ‘em when they’re down. “You’re too heedless and impulsive, child, that’s what. You never stop to think.” Anne is already well aware of this and has already confessed as much. Rachel’s just piling it on.
- Don’t be more attentive to other people’s affairs than your own. “Thomas Lynde lay more on the lounge nowadays than he had been used to do, but Mrs. Rachel, who was so sharp at noticing anything beyond her own household, had not as yet noticed this.”
- Do know when to hold your tongue. Amazingly, Mrs. Lynde did sometimes manage to keep her mouth shut. In her own words: “The way Marilla dresses [Anne] is positively ridiculous, that’s what, and I’ve ached to tell her so plainly a dozen times. I’ve held my tongue though, for I can see Marilla doesn’t want advice.”
- Do admit when you’re wrong. Mrs. Lynde was not above an apology: “When I went home that night [three years ago] I says to Thomas, says I, ‘Mark my words, Thomas, Marilla Cuthbert’ll live to rue [adopting Anne].’ But I was mistaken and I’m real glad of it. I ain’t one of those kind of people, Marilla, as can never be brought to own up that they’ve made a mistake….I did make a mistake in judging Anne.”
If reading about Rachel Lynde’s tactlessness has whetted your appetite to see her in action, you’ll enjoy this video, or you can read more L. M. Montgomery with these Free L. M. Montgomery downloads from amazon.com
This is the first post in the series Life Lessons from Green Gables. Don’t miss the rest!