Discreet: Circumspect and Tactful
The nuances included in the word discreet are many. As I wrote last week, the word discreet is loaded with meaning. It is a very practical word. I'm afraid, by and large, we've lost this character quality in our culture today. But it is oh, so necessary. As Christian women, we need to reclaim it. The development of this quality is not optional; it is an imperative from the mouth of God. So over the next three weeks, I want to explore the fullness of meaning wrapped up in the word discreet by looking at the words that are used to define it.
Today I want to focus on two words that illuminate important aspects of what it means to be discreet. The first one is a word we don't hear very often except in Bible reading (Ephesians 5:15 and Colossians 4:5): circumspect. Circumspect is made up of two root words: circum-, meaning around, from which we get the words circumference and circumstance; and -spect, meaning to look, see, observe. When we exercise circumspection, we are looking around and aware of what's going on around us. Circumspection is the skill of paying "attention to all circumstances and possible consequences." Next week we'll focus on the "and consequences" part of that definition from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. But today let's just think about the first half, "attention to all circumstances."
In learning to act discreetly, we must develop an awareness of what's going on around us—primarily the people around us and how our words and actions will affect them. Discretion requires moderation. A recurring idea that came up in several definitions from various sources involved becoming controlled in sharing our opinions and passions, knowing when and how to share them. This is why discreet is often translated self-control in the Bible. We moderate our words, reining them in, stopping them before they come out if they might cause offense or hurt.
When we share something we are passionate about, we are careful in how we express it so that we don't shut down conversation and discussion. We moderate the tone and intensity, making room for others to also open up, even if they hold an opposite opinion. Discretion enables vulnerability and the sharing of ideas, which sharpens and hones our own understanding. We refrain from becoming heated or pressuring others to think as we think or attempting to manipulate them to think and act as we would like.
I'll never forget the humorous enlightenment a young woman shared with me several years ago when my husband was pastoring a church in Texas. She was a talker and she knew it. As a child, her mother might have called her a "motor-mouth." With laughter in her voice, she related how the Spirit of God had revealed to her that she didn't need to say everything that came to her mind. It was such a new thought to her! She was learning to be discreet.
A related word that came up alongside the definition of circumspect, a word used to help define circumspect, is tact. Because it is so instructive, I want to give you the full definition of tact from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary: "sensitive mental perception; discernment of what is appropriate to do or say in dealing with others; peculiar ability to deal with others without giving offense; skill or grace in behavior; delicate and sympathetic perception of what is fit or considerate in dealing with others; dexterity and grace in coping with difficult situations or people; self-possession in meeting embarrassing or upsetting situations; a knowledge of the proper thing to say or do or of how to act under all circumstances."
Now that's a lot to meditate on and pray over! As the Holy Spirit teaches us how to be discreet, we will grow in sensitivity to those around us. We will become more and more careful with our words. We will become more gracious and graceful in all our dealings. Regardless of how upsetting or difficult a person or a situation may be, God's Spirit within will train us to remain self-possessed and calm (which, incidentally, we will be exploring more when we get to the word chaste in Titus 2).
As we saw last week, this definition of discretion, circumspect and tactful, causes us to become safer and safer people to be around. I hope, like me, your heart longs for this and cries out for this.