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Up for discussion

Great Decisions fosters open dialogue on foreign policy issues

Created date

March 20th, 2012

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. A conscientious group of Catonsville men and women are taking that philosophy to heart through Great Decisions, a discussion program developed by the Foreign Policy Association (FPA). A nonpartisan organization, the FPA is dedicated to inspiring the American public to learn more about the world by developing awareness, cultivating understanding, and providing informed opinions on global issues.

Talk it over

The group of 35 participants who live atCharlestown, Erickson Living s Catonsville community, read assigned selections from the Great Decisions briefing book, an annual publication which highlights some of the most thought-provoking foreign policy challenges facing Americans today. The book provides background information, data, and policy options for each topic. The group then meets twice monthly to view a DVD on the topic, followed by a discussion. Westinghouse retiree Nelson Tharp organized Charlestown s Great Decisions group soon after he and his wife sold their Ellicott City house 12 years ago and moved to the community. We thought it would be fun to get our friends and neighbors together and exchange ideas on international problems and keep alert to what s happening in the world to see if we could do something to influence the world for the better, Nelson says. This year s bi-weekly lecture series includes: Middle East Realignment, Promoting Democracy, Mexico, Cybersecurity, Exit From Afghanistan and Iraq, State of the Oceans, Indonesia, and Energy Geopolitics. One of the objectives of the program is to show different viewpoints, says Nelson. We re not out to fulfill a political agenda or anything like that. We want this to be a safe atmosphere where people can discuss topics and give their opinions. E.J. Urbas, a retired New York elementary school principal who lives at Charlestown, became interested in Great Decisions after joining the American Association of University Women in Anne Arundel County. I really enjoyed the Great Decisions group they had there, says E.J. So when I moved to Charlestown I thought I would give it a try. I really like the material because it manages to skirt political stances but deals with topics that are important for our citizens and people around the world.

Knowledge is power

Those important issues attracted Naval Academy graduate and Westinghouse retiree Ralph Morehead to Great Decisions earlier this year. I m very interested in learning about and discussing national and international challenges facing our country, says Ralph. After all, America is still a leader when it comes to international commerce and relations, and I think it s important to understand what our policies are and how other countries react to these policies. The Middle East is in the news every day, and the changes being made in these countries will affect the world for years to come.

Opinions shared

Ralph and his colleagues not only listen and discuss the Great Decisions topics, they also have the opportunity to voice their opinions. At the end of each meeting participants are invited to complete a ballot on the topic discussed, which is sent to the FPA along with other ballots collected from Great Decisions groups across the U.S. Each year the FPA produces a National Opinion Ballot report, which is sent to the White House, the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, members of Congress, educational institutions, the media, and concerned citizens. The results of the ballots give our congressmen and women a feel for what the voters are thinking, says Nelson, who invites people of all ages to get involved. It s so easy to get swept up in everyday crises and problems and not pay any attention to foreign policies and how they affect us. But these days, with technology and so much globalization, things that happen on the other side of the world have a direct impact on what happens to everyone here at home.