They Questions by Angela Rieck


I have attended several lectures and seminars on the current state of the world, our looming social security crisis, the national debt, the upcoming water crisis and, of course climate change.

It is scary.

My greatest fear is the impact on our children and grandchildren.  

Climate change is unstoppable, but it could be managed if we can find a solution within the next decade. Climate change is not only rising water levels, its impact will be everywhere, for example, larger and larger swaths of coral reefs are dying from the absence of nutrients (40% of the Great Barrier Reef has bleaching).  As the Gulf Stream slows and pulls away, some nations will actually become colder. Because of the unique configuration of the Eastern Shore, we will be impacted more by rising sea levels, St Michaels will probably be underwater during high tides by the year 2100.

As the population increases, water becomes scarcer.  Cape Town, South Africa, barely escaped from being the first major city to run out of water.  Jordan, because of population growth and refugee crisis, can only provide water a day or two each week. Thirty five percent of the people in the world currently do not have access to sanitary water and this will continue to rise as our population swells.

There is some hope, as the military has classified climate change as a threat to national security.  Their record for innovative funding is promising.

In the United States, our mounting national debt ensures that our children will be the first generation in America to do “worse” than their parents.  Social Security is expected to run out of money by 2034. When Social Security (as a payment by workers to retirees) was conceived, the ratio of beneficiaries to workers was 159 to 1, today it is 3 to 1.

These are times that call for courageous action and tough choices.  Many of us are both frustrated and fearful and yearn for solutions.

Yet, when I attend lectures about these topics, the Q&A session are generally “they” questions.  “They” (the current government) are doing this. “They” are ignoring that. “They” are causing this problem. Most of the attendees nod and applaud, but I am frustrated by “they” questions.

“They” questions only serve to antagonize and cause people to move to a defensive position.  “They” questions fix nothing.

What if we started asking “I” questions or “we” questions?  For example, what can I do to help? I look at myself, I drive a Prius, put fewer than 10K miles per year on my car, and I bicycle and walk most places.  But I can do better, I can use more environmentally friendly products (even though I haven’t found any that clean as well); I can use less bleach. I can purchase only organic foods, despite the higher costs.

What if we all started asking “I” questions?  What would happen?

I don’t know. But I do know, that “they” questions do not move us forward. “They” questions polarize us even further and waste energy that we need to expend solving this.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.


Letters to Editor

  1. Keith Thompson says

    The #1 thing I try to remember is that we are the government and that we get the government we deserve. The government, unless it is a monarchy or a dictatorship, is elected by the people and therefore serves as a reflection of the people. All of the problems “created by government” were as a direct result of the collective we calling upon government to fix a certain problem or (increasingly now) to serve a particular political agenda. In my view, this has often led to the government trying to solve problems that are often outside its reach and scope. I have the feeling that the author and I have different political leanings but I think we may share a belief that solving problems is better from the bottom up at the personal and community level than from the top down. I applaud her efforts to ask “I” questions rather than “they” questions because ultimately “they” are “us”.

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