In the novel, Palace of Desire (The Cairo Trilogy II) by Naguib Mahfouz, 1957, it’s time for Egyptian teenager Kamal to decide which college to go to. His father wants him to become a lawyer but Kamal wants to go to Teachers College. The father, who values prestige and respect, tells him that since Teachers College is free, it rarely attracts students from good families. The father is probably a 3-Achiever in the Enneagram personality system. Teaching is “utterly devoid of grandeur or esteem,” he says. “Men of distinction have refused to let their daughters marry a teacher; so why don’t you attend law school instead?” But Kamal can’t understand how money has anything to do with the value of learning.
Kamal, a 4-Romantic, reveres the realms of fantasy, morality, literature, ethics, philosophy, thought, and the lessons history can teach. He hopes to write a book someday. His feelings are deep, probably the most important part of his life. But to his father, feelings (including likes and dislikes) are irrelevant; it’s results that count.
Kamal and his father don’t see eye to eye where values are concerned. Kamal reveres the sublime ideas and ideal world found in books, while his Papa prefers the material world. Kamal protests: “Learning’s superior to prestige, and wealth, Papa,” while his father sees learning only as the means to status, prestige, and wealth.
I once had a friend who was impressed with her high school friends who had become doctors. After starting a career in teaching, she decided to go to medical school but was not accepted. She could become a dentist, however, so she went to dental school, which was hard on her and her growing family. The actual job of being a dentist was even more difficult. She wasn’t organized enough to be comfortable running a dentist’s office. It seemed she had made the wrong turn. Though it paid less and didn’t have the prestige she longed for, teaching had been more rewarding to her emotionally. It suited her skills, temperament, and personality.
Getting back to our story, Kamal’s father gets more and more frustrated with his son. He bemoans the fact that his sons don’t have personalities like his. He tries to change Kamal’s mind by pointing out that there are no statues of teachers. He wants Kamal to become “one of the great men who shake the world with their distinctions and rank.” Kamal has no use for occupations that shake the world, however, characterizing them as promoting counterfeit grandeur and ephemeral glory.
Ironically, the chapter ends with Kamal fantasizing about the book he wants to write—it will be the size and shape of the Holy Qur’an and will shake the world.
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