August 27, 2007

Ashokian Tact and devilry

Ashok wrote a post a while ago about tact in which he presented an unconventional and you might think unsympathetic (to this blogger at least) argument that tact was often less useful in human relationships than one might think. The crux of Ashok's argument is in this passage:

In most cases I have found that stepping back and letting someone have their pride creates a relationship that is mediocre at best. After all, you're the one striving to find common ground, to be nice to others, to give the benefit of the doubt. That you wouldn't be given a similar generosity is a problem: it means that you have to placate someone else's ego to be let in their "lives."


Ashok I am sure like this blogger would say that most relationships are filled with give and take, most relationships between friends, families or lovers are filled with compromise and compromise is all about giving up things that you would like to do for the sake of another- what Ashok's critique seems to be concerned with here is asymmetrical concession particularly at the beggining of a relationship which establishes a pattern.

To demonstrate where I agree entirely with Ashok, I want to turn to one of the most acute things said about relationships ever by one of the most acute observers of human foilibles I have come across. C.S. Lewis was a bad philosopher but a good reader of character- some of his insights- that dieting is a form of gluttony are ones to which I refer all the time. Lewis occasionally said stupid things but some of what he says is very perceptive and particularly this is true about relationships.

One of Lewis's best books concerns the tempting of a human soul by a junior devil who is being advised on how to do it by his uncle a senior devil called Screwtape. At one point the human they are trying to tempt, falls in love with a girl and Screwtape is faced with the mystery of human love, this passion that breaks down all before it in a kind of dew of human kindness. The devil of course is horrified by it: but he has a strategy, he encourages his minion to tempt the man concerned to conceding at every moment, tempting the girl to accept concession as a fact of life. Setting up a scenario which once the first flush of love has departed, will lead to endless conflict between the man who has reverted back somewhat to his selfish self and the girl who expects the norms of their early relationship to survive. Things don't quite go in that direction- but the danger that Lewis points to, that relationships can be corrupted by the expectation of future kindness based on past tact is very valid.

Essentially what Lewis and Ashok are advocating within reason is that to lie that you are kinder than you are upon entering a relationship ends ultimately in tears because it creates an obligation, an expectation in the other parties eyes. That's different from arguing against kindness itself- but its arguing for reciprocality and equality in relationships, there is no point in abandoning one's self in order to serve another if one has no intention (and very few have) of living as a servant for the rest of one's life. When two very conservative (and exceptionally intelligent) writers remind one of the importance of equality and reciprocality in one's relationships its worth listening.

3 comments:

El Dave. said...

I have to declare an interest on this one - temporary, occasional insanity.

It depends on when tact is used. If it's meant to defuse a tense situation, all well and good; when it's used to disguise your intentions and is effectively tantamout to a lie, it makes things rather difficult. Certainly, people not being direct when directness is needed has made things difficult for me.

Yes, that was a rubbish paragraph.

Ashok said...

I'm really happy you appreciated that post! I've been lazy posting as of late, but I hope to get back into the swing of thing soon.

Hope all is well - it would be great to hear from you.

Gracchi said...

Dave entirely agreed!

Ashok entirely agreed on all counts!

Shocking morning- two commenters I entirely agree with!