Good stories can lead to good advice

There will be a time in your life when you will be called upon to give advice to a younger person regarding the professional direction he or she should take in life. Any good advice, I have learned, should start with a good story. And the story most relevant to the what-should-I-choose-as-my-profession question is this: Once upon a time, there was a prince who traveled the world until he arrived in a remote, unknown and mysterious island.

The king of the island invited the prince to a delightful feast. Nothing seemed to be missing until the prince realized that something was missing, something that nobody on the island had ever seen, no one had ever smelled, and nobody had ever tasted before “the common, simple, garden onion!”

Being the kind soul that he was, the prince gave the king the onions he just happened to carry in one of his golden baskets. A new feast was ordered, but this time it was cooked with onions, to perfection, its match was never met. The king was so grateful that he decided to return the favor. And so, after asking the advice of his seventy councillors, he rewarded the prince with a basket filled with golden coins.

Upon return to his home, the prince threw a feast to which he invited the other princes in the neighborhood. (Oh! The life of a prince – from one feast to another.) He told the tale of the remote, unknown and mysterious island he visited, and its king, and the missing onions, and the gift of golden coins. Among the listeners was the king’s son (a different price, I will call him the king’s son) who thought: “Why should not I achieve the like?”

And so, the king’s son embarked on a long journey to the island. Like the prince before him, the king’s son was invited by the king to a feast. The feast was perfect, or to be more precise, almost perfect, for there was something lacking, a missing ingredient.

Expecting to be rewarded with golden coins, the king’s son provided the king of the island with the missing ingredients – garlic, and a lot of it. A new feast was ordered, but this time it was cooked with garlic (and onions), to perfection, its match was never met. The king was so grateful that he decided to return the favor. And so, after asking the advice of his councilors, he rewarded the king’s son with something he regarded as being even more valuable than golden coins. He rewarded the king’s son with an onion.

The story of the prince and the king’s son, called “Knight of Onions and Knight of Garlic,” was written by Hayyim Nahman Bialik and translated to English by Herbert Danby. It is told with great humor, in acrobatic rhymes and a dancing rhythm. But besides its linguistic beauty, the story has a moral: intentions matter. Those who act out of their love to fellow human beings will be rewarded. And those motivated by greed alone will fail.

There are those who claim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But it is not the good intentions that pave the road to hell or to failure. Rather, it is poor planning and poor execution (and at times, I must admit, a stroke of bad luck).

So what will you answer the young person seeking advice regarding their professional future? Start by checking their intentions: does the future schoolteacher aspire to help students materialize their full potential? Is the future architect passionate about designing homes that will be both functional and beautiful? Is the writer interested in sharing his ideas or in merely becoming a famous author? Ask the future cook if he truly wants to create an outstanding culinary experience.

A few weeks ago, a daughter of a close friend of mine asked me if she should become a doctor. Trying to decipher her true intentions, I asked: “Do you want to help sick people?” She thought for a moment and responded with a simple yes. I looked at her and I saw the most beautiful, good-intentioned, Princess of Onions.

Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist at Bell Hospital in Ishpeming. Read and comment on prior columns by Dr. Madjar at