I want to explore the idea of rescue as an approach to changemaking, and why some aspects of the ‘rescue industry’ have hidden ethical challenges. This is a follow on from my post on how to rescue a racehorse, which explored a new rescue-based idea to tackle problems in the horse-racing industry.
Rescuing others is not a new concept in the changemaking world. We are familiar with animal rescue organisations that play a role in protecting the rights of animals, and providing support and shelter when at their most vulnerable. Although often not referred to in this way, rescue work also happens with people who are in vulnerable positions (like children). I am not here to lay any judgement on these organisations; I do want to explore the nature of rescue and other ways of creating change.
A more recent field in which this meme has entered is that of ‘food rescue’. Food rescue is the process whereby wasted food is ‘rescued’ from restaurants to be given a ‘second life’ by distributing to those who could use it. In both the US and Australia (and beyond), food rescue organisations have attracted an enormous amount of support and public acclaim. The social entrepreneurs behind these ventures in both countries have been heralded as visionary leaders doing important work.
Rescuing food seems somewhat different to rescuing animals or vulnerable people. In one sense, the food itself does not experience vulnerability in the same way. Environmentally of course, the wastage of food in the hospitality industry is a massive problem. The excessive waste is a consequence of possibly numerous potential causes in that industry. Interestingly though, the rescuing of food does not do anything to actually tackle or solve problems in this industry. Rescue of food simply provides a second life for that food.
Recently I was speaking to someone who works with people experiencing homelessness and families in financial trouble in an inner-city Sydney suburb. She explained to me that the food being provided by one food rescue organisation was actually causing other problems in that suburb. She was finding that families were becoming reliant on the food packages that they received from this organisation. She was observing that the parents were becoming so reliant that they had stopped shopping, stocking food in their home and cooking for their children.
In what was seemingly an ethical solution to an environmental challenge in one industry, became a hidden problem for the second recipients. Food distribution became a new form of welfare that trapped the recipients in a new cycle of dependance. In this case, the community worker I was speaking to had made a request for the organisation to limit the amount of times in a month that they distributed food in that area.
There is a psychological element to rescuing. The Drama Triangle model outlined initially by Stephen Karpman, showed three roles playing out in human interactions – the victim, the persecutor and the rescuer. I am not making any slurs on the people involved in these organisations; they are most often engaged with very good intentions. The Drama Triangle model does however provide an interesting lens on the role of rescuing in this interaction. Typically the ‘rescuer’ responds out of a desire to help in a situation and often to support someone in a vulnerable position. It is an often hidden dynamic because on the surface they are being supportive and acting with good intent.
According to this psychological theory though, this dependance is actually desired by the person taking the role of rescuer. A dynamic can develop whereby the rescuer actually doesn’t want the problem to be resolved. Being needed becomes a desired experience that further fuels the ego.
An alternative model shared to the Drama Triangle as shared by a colleague and friend Peter Lightbody, is that of the Circle of Personal Leadership. The rescuer has the ability to shift the dynamic out of the ego state from ‘rescuer’ to become an ‘enabler’. This is an entirely different approach to changemaking, and I wonder what food rescue could look like, it an ‘enabling’ approach was taken to the new problems in may be creating.