The Organ Grinder's Monkey
Larry B. Gelman, Psy.D

LBG1 1Emerson reminds us that while “one may serve many masters, he shall give himself to none.” Phrased a bit differently, we eventually need to choose to whom we will allocate our resources of blood, sweat and tears.

It is my contention that, by deluding ourselves into believing that we can successfully serve everybody, we will eventually discover that, in reality, we can only succeed in providing a service, “good and true,” to nobody.

In such a scenario, we are now condemned to the role of the organ grinder’s monkey such that whosoever can wind us up and turn the screws, so to speak, will require of us to tap dance on the head of a pin until we prick ourselves.

Only then after we are bruised and weary to the bone, bleeding and bereft of anything else of value to fully give in service of our many unrelenting task masters, will we begin to appreciate how little we have been appreciated.

The imagery of the organ grinder’s monkey is distressing because the poor animal has become conditioned to do the unquestionable bidding of its master without hesitation due to its dependence upon the master for its survival.

There is an insidious mutual “exchange of values” in which the monkey dutifully complies with the organ grinder’s definition of the nature and structure of the pseudosymbiotic relationship which superficially exists between them.

More specifically, by subordinating its self-agency in service of self-abnegation plus a few crumbs, the monkey will dance to any tune of any master; when its usefulness has been ground-up the monkey becomes chopped liver!

Accruing to the organ grinder is an inconsequential subordinate, a lowly “sweat-hog and grunt,” who is obliged to toil and labor, often to their own inimical detriment, so that the master can benefit from the monkey’s hoofing it.

I have held a very longstanding professional and personal bias that the true task for each and every one of us is to always dance our dance and sing our song to the words and music we create; otherwise we risk real subservience.

It occurs to me that just as “a house divided shall not endure,” similarly, by serving multiple masters “the house of you” can-not, will-not, and shall-not endure, and that no positive outcome can, will, or shall obtain or result to you.

During the past half-century, I have pondered the ancient riddle framed as an interrogatory, albeit on psychological grounds, “for whom does the grail serve?” and I think I may have approximated a relevant answer: me, thee and we.

Stated alternatively, the first “master” who needs to be consistently and appropriately served is self, the second “master” is non-self, and the third “master” is the relationship (or cross-product) between self and non-self.

Absent these three legs of the stool of service, the grail serves none because there is nothing redeeming or even holy about it when it fails to take good care of itself first, then another, then all others... only in that particular sequence.

Throughout recorded history, there have been many madmen and madwomen who have just been plain mad at how they allowed themselves to become complicit in their own victimization no matter which masters they served.

True masters have no need to exploit those in their charge while altruistic servants understand that while their lives are about themselves, their lives are not only just about them but include duties, obligations and responsibilities to others.

The organ grinder’s monkey will always be the “monkey-in-the-middle” and will continue indefinitely to dance to the insufferable tune of the organ grinder unless and until the monkey stops monkeying around and serves self!


Author Note: Dr. Larry B. Gelman is a Clinical Psychologist and a Personal Mentor

Copyright © 2010-2022 Larry B. Gelman, Psy. D. All Rights Reserved.