MY COMMONPLACE BOOK (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)
The truth, he thought, has never been of any real value to any human being—it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.— from The Heart of the Matter (1948) by Graham Greene (1904—1991)
Graham Greene was one of the most popular writers of the 20th century (twenty-seven novels, many short stories, many movie adaptations of his stories, plus original movie scripts) combining adultery, spying, betrayal, and, oh yes, religion. He was a devout Catholic whose “heroes” suffered from their obsession with God and their inability to avoid sin, even crime. Scobie, the middle-aged protagonist of The Heart of the Matter suffers from “an odd premonitory sense of guilt he always felt, as though he were responsible for something in the future he couldn’t even see.”
In any case, Greene’s well-written, entertaining, yet serious, combination of spy adventure featuring isolated men with a bad conscience appealed to many thousands of readers and movie-goers, religious or not.
As for Scobie’s dismissal of the truth in human relations: when we are young, we may tend to be rigidly judgmental, sure that “the truth” as we see it, is best in the long run, in both words and actions toward one another. As the years pass, and we recall comforting lies we wish we had spoken. Then we care less about “truth,” (which itself may have changed as we aged and gained insight.) We learn to prize kindness, and we regret those time we traded it for a “truth” we were so sure we knew.
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