Spoon Theory and the Normative Population

Spoon Theory was invented as a way to explain living with disabilities to the non disabled population. It explains that making any decisions for people living with disabilities is a harder process than for those without. Every action requires careful deliberation. Disabled people don’t have the luxury of infinite or even large number of spoons that normative people do, which allows them not to have to carefully account for every action.

It’s interesting therefore that since the conception of Spoon Theory it has been almost equally adopted by the normative population for situations where they perceive they have reached their personal limit. Something that was initially meant to be a distinguishing factor between disabled and normative populations is now equally used by both. Something that originally meant “due to my disability, I can’t do this because I have to take more care deciding my actions” now means, more generally, “I am unable to do this because I have reached my personal limitation for the day and/or need to conserve energy for a later activity”. The important question therefore is, is this a shift for the better or the worse?

Is Spoon Theory only relevant and/or informative if it remains exclusive? Or is there a place in our society for widely accepted language and dialogue around limits and physical/mental boundaries? There are good arguments on both sides. Principally, the argument for keeping Spoon Theory related dialogue exclusive revolves around the vastly more extreme struggle faced by those with disabilities and the risk of trivialising or lessening those people’s suffering to the level of normative people. Spoon Theory was conceived to explain how a world of disability differed from that of normative life. If this worldview is now being co-opted by normative people it is going against its very intended nature.

Of course language and culture are eternally evolving and changing, and original intentions often mean little as a phrase or saying develops its own cultural identity. The best thing about Spoon Theory is the fact that is draws attention to people’s abilities, or more importantly, lack thereof. It talks about limits and decision making in a way which is being understood and accepted. Before when asked out and responding with “I’m not feeling it”, one might suffer persistent attempts to change one’s mind. Now, if one instead answered “Sorry, I’m out of spoons”, that message is far more clearly understood. And that is of course the point of language, conveying a point clearly to be understood by the receiver. Spoon Theory is making people more tolerant and aware of other people’s limitation and choices, and how they may differ from their own. Whether this difference should really only be applied to people suffering from disabilities who experiences are greatly differentiated, or should be applied to all no matter how differentiated their abilities, is a question I don’t think has an easy answer, but is definitely worth discussing.