"Spoon Theory”: An Exercise in Empathy
A close friend who lives with a chronic illness taught me a lesson about the challenges of her daily life by using a 5 minute exercise that Christine Miserandino, somewhat humorously, called the “spoon theory” exercise. You see, the main difference between somebody who is sick and somebody who is healthy is being limited in making choices between things that the rest of us take for granted. An able-bodied person like me can replenish her energy by taking a nap, working out, or drinking some coffee. But it’s often very difficult for a sick person to get this energy back.
The “Spoon theory” exercise uses plastic spoons as a tangible representation of a sick person’s energy. The exercise with my friend went as following:
- First, my friend gave me a handful of kitchen spoons, which symbolized all the energy I would have for an entire day.
- I was told that once my spoons were gone, they would most likely be gone for good.
- I was asked to describe my daily routine in detail.
- For every activity that caused my friend pain or that she found exhausting – activities as seemingly simple as getting out of bed, taking a shower, choosing clothing, driving to work, and typing on the computer – my friend took away a spoon from my supply.
- Once my supply of spoons began to run low, I was told that I would begin having to make decisions about how to spend the rest of my day.
- She reminded me that at least one spoon would be lost by driving home after work in rush hour traffic. Another spoon would disappear if I decided to cook dinner, yet another if I washed my dishes afterward.
- My previous plans for that evening were to go to the gym and later hang out with my friends. Each of these would diminish my spoon supply as well!
This five minute exercise helped me to gain a whole new understanding into my friend’s lifestyle and choices. How difficult it is for her to accomplish everything that she wants or needs to do on a typical day! I gained an infinite amount of appreciation and respect for how much she actually does.
I have since thought about the “spoon theory” whenever I have a long day at work or a tedious school assignment. I am all the more grateful for all the privileges that come with being an able bodied, healthy person!