Sunday, June 29, 2008

Clever or Wise

"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions."
- Naguib Mahfouz

I have a friend who is in the throes of considering where to celebrate his 50th birthday. High on the consideration list is Cairo. Wow! What a great place to celebrate fifty years of his journey so far - a place of great wisdom, mystery, and historical impact. Of course, if it is indeed Cairo, I know just what I shall give him.

One of my favorite writers is Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz, born in Cairo in 1911, spent his life until 1972 as a civil servant in the Egyptian government bureaucracy. His appointments included Director of Censorship in the Bureau of Art, Director of the Foundation for the Support of the Cinema, and consultant on Cultural Affairs to the Ministry of Culture. Concurrent with his government work, Mahfouz was writing. He published his first novel in 1939 and published ten more before 1952. His retirement in 1972 saw a great burst in Mahfouz's creative output. Before his death in 2006, Mahfouz published about thirty novels, more than a hundred short stories, and more than two hundred articles. Many of his novels have been made into films. Naguib Mahfouz was award the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street) is a great piece of work. I read the three novels straight through one summer and was mesmerized. Even now I can transport myself to the courtyard of the family house. The sights and smells of Egypt, a foreign land to me, became burned into my mind. Mahfouz writes about the political and the mundane in such combination that a shared sense of journey across continents, a shared humanity, emerges. The other becomes familiar through the motions and meanderings of daily life. This trilogy will make a great gift for my friend if he travels to Cairo.

To be a clever man or a wise man, a question of old. Mahfouz's answer in the above quote speaks to me. I believe that cleverness is about power and ego, while wisdom is more about seeking solutions that solve root causes. A clever man shows, sometimes spouts, his knowledge. A clever man relishes in center stage. A wise man, however, is still learning, still searching, and still open, regardless of age or position.
Wisdoms questions, without fear. Questioning, a wise man knows, leads to a fuller, more expansive outcome.

No comments: