Man, have I seen some people misuse the concept of “spoons.”
I am deliberately not linking to specific examples, because many people on the Internet choose not to disclose their disabilities or are unaware that they’re disabled and I would rather not become the Internet Stranger Disability Police. I could use examples from private conversations, but that’s kind of an invasion of privacy. But rest assured that I have seen many people whom I knew to be nondisabled do this and if you haven’t then I’m glad for the quality of nondisabled people you interact with.
I am mostly not a spoonie. (I am a forkie.) But the thing is… the spoons model of disability is about having too little energy to do all the daily life activities that most nondisabled people take for granted, and having to carefully husband your energy. It’s about “if I don’t shower today, then I will have energy to go withdraw money from the bank”, or “shit, I have to spend money I don’t have on takeout because if I try to cook I won’t be able to eat.”
Most people don’t get so lacking in energy that they can’t eat. That’s awesome! I am really glad you’ve never had that experience! But then you shouldn’t use a word that describes that experience and similar experiences. You can use “tired”! Or “exhausted”! Or “not in the mood”! There are many, many words that describe the nondisabled experience of not having energy!
Normally I am Queen Anti-Language-Police, but this is where I make an exception. If people who don’t have the experience spoon theory describes bastardize spoon theory so it describes their own experiences, it makes it harder for disabled people to actually communicate what their experiences are. If when someone says “I can’t do that, I don’t have the spoons” someone hears “I will be tired but still capable of showering and changing my clothes and eating and stuff” rather than “no, seriously, you are impairing my ability to do basic activities”, it is harder for disabled people to communicate the latter concept. And that is a really important concept to communicate.
(Also as the Lord High Queen of the Forks Model, I am putting no such limitation on the forks model, because it seems probable to me that that is actually how nondisabled people work too and my problems are a difference more of degree than of kind.)
Part of the problem with talking about this is that it is very common for people with invisible disabilities not to realize they’re disabled. So any time you say “nondisabled people shouldn’t use this concept!” a bunch of disabled people will decide that they shouldn’t use this concept either. This is not what I am talking about here.
If you find the actual concept, as opposed to the synonym for tired, helpful, then please continue to use it! If you are uncertain whether the concept of spoons applies to you, then I encourage you to continue to use it as long as you find it helpful. If spoons applies to you in some ways but not others– if you run out of language spoons or ability-to-withstand-loud-spaces spoons or standing-up spoons, but not other kinds of spoons– keep using it!
And I’m not saying that only disabled people can use the concept of “spoons” to describe themselves. There are plenty of nondisabled people who have to watch their spoons. Recently bereaved people often do, for instance. So do people who are under extreme amounts of stress. I am absolutely not saying that you have to have a Real Diagnosis to use it, just that you have to have the experience.
But if you are not talking about the actual experience the term was meant to describe, please do not use the term.
Wait, wait, wait:
How does this post reconcile with the “Consent as a felt sense” post? They seem directly at odds.
It is important that “not enough spoons” means “literally unable to complete a task” and not “too tired or nervous to try”.
It is also important that “sexual nonconsent” be broadened to include “saying yes because of tiredness or nervousness” not just “literally saying no (or, not saying ‘yes’)”.
I found both posts reasonably compelling, taken in isolation. But, juxtaposed as they are…
Um, actually in “on consent as a felt sense” I argued in favor of having a category for “sex experienced as a violation”, separate from rape (while respecting people’s right to identify as rape survivors if that framing is useful for them).
Yes, you argued in favor of people who find the term ‘rape’ useful for their experiences to use it (even if they said ‘yes’ to something because it was too difficult to say ‘no’).
You argued against people using “spoons” to describe their experiences unless they are dealing with a literal and absolute limitation on the number of things they can do (not merely too tired or too nervous to do something they would like).
In one case, it is absolutely critical that non-central examples of the term are not excluded, and in the other case, it is critically important that non-central examples of the term are excluded.
“I didn’t have the spoons to consent,” sounds like a rape to me, so broadening “rape” and narrowing “spoons” absolutely seems to me like a contradiction.
How are those two posts at odds with each other?
Both posts are arguing that terms are being used at scopes that do not adequately reflect the underlying reality/decrease their communicative utility. Ozy’s prescriptions are opposite because the two terms are being mis-scoped in opposite manners; the underlying argument are more or less identical on the structural level and are motivated by the same concern.
My reading of these two posts is as follows:
1) It’s good for different words to mean different things. “No spoons” should have a different meaning than “tired.” “Sex experienced as a violation” should have a different meaning than “rape.”
2) If you feel like you’re experiencing something traumatic and painful, don’t trouble yourself with these distinctions. Your ability to cope is more important than potential language pollution.
leave me alone i don't believe in blogging said:
Even with this paragraph being in there, I almost feel directly attacked, and I’ve never even used the word “spoons” to describe my experiences. (I definitely reach “can’t leave bedroom” level regularly, SO THERE.)
This might be a dangerous post for people similar to me. (No, don’t put a warning or something, people similar to me just ignore those.)
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It’s unfortunate that Ozy can’t link to examples (though of course I understand why). Specifics can be helpful for this sort of thing, so you can use native pattern matching rather than pessimistic System 2 thinking.
Until you explained your Forks Theory I used to get rather aggrieved by people who would describe themselves as lacking “emotional spoons.”
Given that the context would almost always be “this person is doing a thing I don’t like but I am too conflict-averse to do anything about it so instead I’m going to whine at you”, it got on my nerves, But forks does kind of make it make more sense.
If the point is to be taken seriously, even to the extent of doing some language policing, why use such a precious, too-cute-by-half term such as “spoons”? I understand that it has caught on in certain circles, but it seems that if you’re wanting to be taken seriously by the greater population, you would want to sound serious.
queenshulamit, the sad fat weird girl with incredible boobs said:
I don’t think spoons is a very cute term? And I think there’s a difference between saying “hey, chronically ill people, you should stop using the term you made up to describe your experiences” and saying “hey people who have the ability to do all your daily living activities, you should stop using a word that means ‘unable to do daily living activities’ to mean ‘tired’, when there is already a word called tired which you can use for that purpose.”
H. L. said:
We didn’t have a conference and decide or anything, it came out of one person’s personal experience explaining the theory, and while they were explaining they were in a cafeteria, where there were spoons, and those spoons became our spoons.
I also think people should never start thoughts with “If you want to be taken seriously….” Just be an ally and help people take us seriously when they are not doing so. That is the work we have to do all the damn time.
“And I’m not saying that only nondisabled people can use the concept of “spoons” to describe themselves. There are plenty of nondisabled people who have to watch their spoons.”
I think the first instance of “nondisabled” needs to be changed to “disabled”.
(Hey, you were the language police first!)
Anyway, great post. I like the whole [explaining disability] thing. I’m a mixture of forks and spoons, context-specific.
I feel like nondisabled people need better words to describe motivation and energy. “Akrasia” is too general, it can mean anything from “too tired” to “scared” to “don’t alieve this is actually important”.(One might call this the Fucks Model of Motivation, where one only has a certain number of fucks to give.)
There’s also a thing where , like,doing one Important Thing will give you one self worth point, doing a second will give you a half, doing a third a quarter, etc., so being a lazy fuck is actually a fairly good strategy, because a whole self-worth point is a better motivator when a Really Important Thing comes along than 1/2^n self-worth points. Or at least my brain tells me that’s a thing, but it also generally wants me to do as little work as humanly possible, so I’m not sure I can trust it.
The Law of Diminishing Forks?
(One might call this the Fucks Model of Motivation, where one only has a certain number of fucks to give.)
There’s a distinction I haven’t seen mentioned till now. Fucks are countable nouns. For some of us, even us non-disabled people, there are only so many projects we can “have on our plate” at once. These projects are countable. Promising to undertake something, then keeping it in mind etc — can take as much brain power for something easy as for something complicated. It’s not how much physical or mental energy it will take to do the task, but what it takes to keep it on the to-do list and do little prep things as they fit with other errands etc for a while, then find a time when you can actually do part of it, then next time you have some time, remember how far you had got last time, etc.
Words like energy, strength, time, etc don’t really fit, because they aren’t countable. So along comes a countable word – spoons – and a lot of people use it for their own needs (though not me).
Mr. Eldritch said:
For me, it’s around three. Four starts causing me to freak out, and at five I’m a full-on wreck. I call it “The Stack.”
This causes serious problems, because once I start getting anxious, it’s harder for me to complete tasks, which causes more and more items to be pushes onto the Stack. I am constantly living life as an inverted-pendulum active control problem and it sucks.
(Writing stuff down in to-do lists does help a bit, though, because at the very least then I don’t have to keep it on the mental Stack. The paper Stack can be a bit larger.)
“Stack” makes sense; not how big or heavy the items are, just how many of them is the problem. My to-do list is Gmail message headers with !!! or however many for how important/urgent the task is. If a task gets all the way to the bottom of the screen, I Reply to it to bring it back up.
Maybe when someone says “I don’t have enough spoons for another project” I could say “I don’t have enough pans.”
Is it me, or is there a lack of language/concept to articulate states that not ‘normal’ (as in your random Joe) but still far from disabled, and that abuse of the spoons concept is but one manifestation. (another that springs to mind is the relationship between nerdyness and autism.)
The solution most apparent to me is using percentiles, although the reason could be that any scale is better than a boolean able/disabled model in some cases.
1) Are there experiences that non-disabled people have that more closely approximate (almost) running out of spoons? (e.g. in severe but plausible cases of infectious illness, sleep-deprivation, or over-exertion?)
2) How should someone go about distinguishing between “can’t” and “won’t”, which is apparently important for knowing whether the spoons model is applicable? (Of course applying the distinction to other people with full generality is essentially impossible, but I don’t know how to distinguish between “can’t” and “won’t” for my own actions either.)
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This entire post reminds me of another blog:
> Is building a product hard? Maybe. Which part of it?
> Committing to a schedule, doing the research, and serving a need that actually exists? Is that hard? Is reading books and forums hard? Is tabulating common themes in a spreadsheet hard? Is revisiting it twice a week hard?
> No, that’s not hard. That’s don’t wanna.
H. L. said:
To a certain extent, can’t and won’t are similar. More helpfully, you could use a sentence like, “I can, but ________________ will happen.” What goes in that blank? How bad is it probly gonna be?
fullmetalrationalist, I expect the situation you describe could be something many people would not want to do; you might well be one of them. I suspect that there are also a large number of people who for varying reasons would find the situation extremely hard.
‘Spoons’ is new to me, but the idea of having a very limited ability to do anything beyond (or even at) basic daily activities deserves a good word. Some amount of language policing is surely good; probably doomed anyways, but it’s nice to have nice meaningful words.
Maybe you should – to the degree possible, feasible, and enjoyable – offer-up your sub-spoons ‘workaround’, (e.g. “language spoons or ability-to-withstand-loud-spaces spoons or standing-up spoons”); except what’s the analog for ability-to-do-basic daily-activites for all of those? It seems like the people that are misusing ‘spoons’ would probably be misusing ‘language spoons’ or ‘standing-up spoons’ in the same way.
H. L. said:
Generally, the spoons are for everything. That’s how they work. There aren’t separate kinds. This is where it breaks down with people for whom the theory is not intended.