Productivity as Ableism: Examining the Problems

As much as I try to fight it, I have been brainwashed by the cult of productivity. This has served me well as a simple-living minimalist, a lo-fi writer, and a spoonie. I know how to pare things down to the quickest, least expensive, and most effective practices. Today, though, I want to discuss the problems with productivity as ableism and why the drive for peak performance isn’t always a good thing.

Allow me to start with my own problematic behavior. I frequently throw around the Teddy Roosevelt quote, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Each of us has different capabilities, different resources, and different circumstances. We need to find ways to make the best of it. While I firmly believe in the sentiment expressed, I realize that I sometimes take it too far.

For example, I have bragged that I can get more done in a day than a lot of able people. This is largely a reaction to being told what I can’t do for most of my life. I was told I’d never make a living as a writer. That I’d never be able to live in Europe. And there’s no way I could run my own business, according to my own vision, on my own terms. Thpppt!

All People Have Value

The harm here is that some ableist people take this to mean that if I can do it, anyone can. They don’t see it as a call for able people to apply themselves. It’s not viewed as a call to use your gifts, no matter what those may be. They see it as “proof” that disabled people are lazy and just need to try harder. They fail to acknowledge my privilege, or that I am an outlier.

The other issue is that of a person’s worth being judged in accordance to their productivity. My drive for peak efficiency comes from a need to pay the bills in a generally low-paying industry while not burning myself out. Trust me, if I didn’t have to work as hard, I wouldn’t. A person that doesn’t maximize their efficiency, or go to extremes to manage the use of their spoons, or simply cannot work, is not less-than. Everyone has a right to basic dignity and respect.

This is just a shitty capitalist trope, that there are makers and takers. It’s dehumanizing and lacks basic empathy. There’s a streak of competitiveness and classism, to quantify who is better than whom, about the whole thing. I hate that, and I hate that these warped cultural values are so deeply embedded in my psyche. For that, I apologize, and I promise that I will continue to try and do better.


Examining the Problems of Productivity as Ableism

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About Simplify – Create – Thrive

This blog is dedicated to one basic principle: if you can simplify your life and dedicate time to create things, you will be able to thrive and find the health and happiness you seek.

About Berin Kinsman

Berin Kinsman is a writer, simple living minimalist, and spoonie. By day he works as the owner/publisher at Dancing Lights Press. An American by accident of birth, he currently lives in Finland with his wife, artist Katie Kinsman.

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