By Gedale Fenster
Rabbi Nachman related a parable about a prince who had a mental breakdown, which caused him to believe that he was a turkey. The prince removed all his clothes and sat under the table, pecking at food from the floor, as a turkey would. After many unsuccessfully medical interventions, the physicians declared that there was no way to cure him. The royal family was very distraught and consulted with a sage. The sage arrived at the palace, took off his clothes, joined the prince under the table, and proceeded to eat the food from the floor.
The sage asked the prince who he was, to which the prince replied that he was a turkey. The sage then told the prince that he too was a turkey.
The two men established a great friendship, and after some time, the sage asked the prince, “Why can’t a turkey wear a shirt? Surely you can still be turkey while wearing a shirt.”
The prince agreed, and the two men put on their shirts.
A while later the sage asked, “Who decided that a turkey can’t wear pants? Can’t you wear pants and still be a turkey?”
The sage continued asking these questions until both men were fully dressed.
He then asked the prince, “What makes you think that a turkey can’t eat tasty food? Surely, you can eat good food and still be a turkey.”
Once again, the prince agreed, and the two men ate regular food.
Later, the sage asked, “Why must a turkey eat under the table? A turkey can sit anywhere he wants and still be a turkey!”
Finally, the two men sat at the table.
By conducting his intervention in this manner, the sage was eventually able to cure the prince.
Much can be learned from this fable. The sage began by showing the prince that he was able to relate to his struggle, that he did not judge his position. By building a rapport and establishing a connection with the prince, he was able to suggest the feasible change of putting on a shirt. The sage intentionally moved in seemingly insignificant stages. Although the prince was still acting like a turkey even in the later stages, the sage chose to focus on the minor yet steady progress which resulted from the momentum of small wins. The sage understood the prince’s limitations yet worked to build on his strengths; thereby providing him with the tools to overcome each subsequent step by conveying unconditional love, encouragement, and working patiently with him through every phase of the process.