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“It is better to will the good than to know the truth.”
Petrarch (1304 –1374), Italian poet, calligrapher and scholar
I came up with a new life-motto a few years ago while mentoring a young boy. Every Saturday for over two years, we got together to tour museums, hike or bike trails, visit libraries, slide down slopes, skate on ice, watch maple syrup drip from trees, or just discuss life. On Sundays, we went to church.
What a blast!
This kid was smart (still is). We often quizzed each other on our knowledge while driving. I shared my life-motto with him: “If you love to learn, you’ll learn to love.” I was more impressed with my wit than he was, but the mutual learning continued.
One day, it occurred to me that I was glorifying his smartness a bit too much. I heard myself say, “It’s good to be smart, but it’s better to be good.” Smartly, he revised it to “It’s good to be smart and it’s smart to be good.”
The point reached home. Such treasures as truth, knowledge and smartness are not good in and of themselves or for their own sake. In the end, they must foster goodness, for goodness sake! Untethered to morality, truth is benign at best and quite dangerous at worst.
I am not the first to think such thoughts. Back in the infamous 14th century, a poet named Petrarch came up with this notion. He is known as the father of humanism (or the “humanities” as a discipline of study). Some see him as the father of the Renaissance. If that’s not impressive enough, he has even been called the world’s “first tourist”! He loved to travel for the pleasure of it.
Truth be told, it wasn’t just traveling that gave him joy. His passion was to hunt down old manuscripts and anything he could use to promote the study of ancient history and literature. He refused to tolerate the prevailing ignorance of history and the classics that he saw in his day. He traveled far and wide to bring light to the so-called “Dark Ages.”
If seeking truth and recovering knowledge was his passion, how could he have penned the maxim above? Maybe he understood that seeking truth and knowledge was a means to a higher end: namely, being good!
The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.