'Thunderbirds are go!' It’s a tense and exciting moment - at least as a child. The international rescuers head off urgently to do their thing: a rescuing thing. Or it’s a knight on a white charger who races off to save, to rescue, a damsel in distress. Or it’s Jesus who rescues us from our universal 'human propensity to f*** things up' (Francis Spufford) - which, unlike Thunderbirds and fairy tales, I actually believe to be true.
And so it is that our beliefs, stories, fables and folklore are filled with accounts of honour and nobility expressed through acts of rescue. They touch, reflect and evoke personally and culturally a spirit of justice, mercy and compassion for others in need. They call us to reach beyond ourselves, our own interests and concerns, to respond to another, to help another where they are trapped, too weak or unable to help themselves.
This instinct, this value, this desire to rescue can however be a double-edged sword. What if, through my desire to rescue, I become the parent who always protects my child and denies them the opportunity to develop resilience? What if I become the leader, the line-manager, who solves everyone’s problems for them, creates unhealthy dependency and denies team members their opportunities to stretch and grow?
What if I become the coach who takes others’ issues onto myself, takes on too much responsibility, and thereby avoids challenging and developing the capacities of the client? Transactional Analysis ('Drama Triangle') can provide useful insights here, e.g. How is the client portraying themselves in their story; What is the client evoking in me, and vice versa; What patterns of relationship are being enacted here and now?
So here are some checks and balances I've found useful: What am I aware of when I work with this client, team or organisation? When am I most likely to slip into rescuer mode? What does this client, this situation, call for? What is in the best interests of the client? Looking at this relationally and systemically, what perverse incentives or unintended consequences could my own interventions inadvertently create?
Nick Wright is a coach and consultant, specialising in reflective practice.