The Potato Metaphor You Didn’t Know You Needed

You know how sometimes you help a friend with something emotional & you can feel great after, or completely drained? This metaphor helps explain that.

Photo in public domain on Unsplash, by Agence Producteurs Locaux Damien Kuhn.

Photo in public domain on Unsplash, by Agence Producteurs Locaux Damien Kuhn.

My sex ed colleague Kate McCombs has this brilliant new metaphor for emotional labor: the potato metaphor.

Put briefly, it’s as though the person seeking empathy or emotional labor is bringing potatoes to a friend’s house to cook. You, the empathy/emotional labor-giver, are opening up your kitchen to help your buddy cook their potatoes. But it makes a world of difference whether your friend shows up with their potatoes scrubbed and peeled, or if your friend shows up knowing that they left their potatoes somewhere, maybe in the backseat of their car, maybe at home, and could you please help them locate and then prepare all their potatoes?

As Kate writes,

I would like to see a significant amount of airtime devoted to how we can be better at receiving support. How can we be better at delivering our potatoes so it’s easier for our loved ones to bake them for us? It’s more sustainable for our supporters, and we’d get more of the support we desire.

I love this metaphor and think it’s quite useful and thought-provoking, so I’ll be introducing it to everyone in my life (and by extension, y’all who are readers here). Enjoy!

About Jeana Jorgensen

Jeana Jorgensen studied folklore at Berkeley under Alan Dundes, going on to complete her MA and PhD in folklore at Indiana University. She specializes in narrative folklore (particularly fairy tales), dance, body art, feminism and queer theory, and folklore in literature. She splits her time between teaching college courses in anthropology, folklore, and gender studies, and working in the field of adult sex education as a scholar, teacher, and writer.