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Great Decisions breeds good discussions

Seabrook residents meet regularly on world affairs

Created date

November 26th, 2013

Before retired reporter Allan Ostar moved to Seabrook, the Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J., from Chevy Chase, Md., he got his foreign affairs and public policy news from the same place most people get it newspapers and television. But upon moving to Seabrook, Allan joined a group called Great Decisions, a world affairs discussion and study program begun in 1918 by the Foreign Policy Association. Discussion groups meet all across the U.S. The Seabrook group, now led by fellow resident Robert Smylie, provides an opportunity for community members to engage in discussions with their peers.

Meaningful, engaging, and stimulating

That's one of the main attractions of living at Seabrook, Allan says. We were living in a condo when I retired, but you didn t have this kind of opportunity to engage in discussions of world affairs. Allan says he s always been interested in foreign and public policy, but what attracts him most to the group is the content. We actually use data and information. It s content-based, which makes it much more meaningful, enjoyable, and stimulating, he says. As a side benefit, we have an opportunity to get together with other residents. The Great Decisions program publishes a study book each year that highlights eight foreign policy challenges facing Americans. The book provides background information, current data, and policy options for each issue and serves as the focal text for discussion groups. The program also produces a DVD that provides a 25- to 30-minute introduction to each issue. Robert says groups differ in how they use the material. The Seabrook group meets twice a month for ten months out of the year. Each month covers one of the eight topics ( We make up two topics for months nine and ten, Robert says), with the first session devoted to the DVD introduction and the second session devoted to discussion. Not everyone buys the book, Robert says, but those who do seem to get a lot out of it. It is written well enough to give you a good understanding of each issue. Issues for discussion vary from broad, international affairs to those more country specific. This past year, the eight issues included the following: the Future of the Euro, Egypt, the Future of NATO, Myanmar, Intervention or the responsibility to protect, Iran and Its Attempt to Get Nuclear Weapons, China s Role in Africa, and Assessment of Threat in Your Society. Each issue is something that forces me to learn more, Robert says of why he enjoys leading the group. I see Great Decisions as a learning process. I want people who come to the group to learn something. What you see in a ten-second news clip will be biased and normally doesn t give you enough information for you to make an informed decision, he continues. Our group has grown, and I feel most people say they are learning. To Allan, continued learning is a top priority. We need to keep our brains active. This group provides meaningful engagement with our fellow residents.

Knowledgeable leader

Robert inherited the group from a former resident who moved to California to live near her daughter. And he couldn t be a more perfect fit. My background included two things, he says, academic teaching, which included foreign policy issues. And for 25 years I represented the Presbyterian Church as their representative for the UN [United Nations.] Despite his extensive experience with world affairs, he continues to study the material. His own home at Seabrook houses thousands of books, and he reads three international affairs journals: Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and Current History. We are very fortunate to have someone of [Robert s] vast background and experience to lead our meetings. He does an enormous amount of homework, Allan says. What s more, Allan continues, We are fortunate at Seabrook to have so many people with experience and knowledge in a vast array of fields. In line with the Erickson motto We share our gifts to create a community that celebrates life, so many people here have gifts to share.

Interested in Great Decisions? Find a group near you by visiting 

Great Decisions 2014 Topics

1. Defense Technology. What are the new technologies of the 21st century battlefield, from robotic planes to cyberweapons to human enhancement? And how must the U.S. navigate and adapt to them?

2. Israel and the U.S. The ties between the U.S. and Israel are being tested. How will the relationship continue?

3. Turkey s Challenges. What lies in the future for this nation at a crossroads?

4. Islamic Awakening. How is U.S. foreign policy adapting to the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the changes it has caused in the affected region?

5. Energy Independence. Should the U.S. encourage more traditional fuel production or invest in the young technology of renewable resources?

6. Food and Climate. As climate change threatens to further deteriorate the world s hunger situation, how will the U.S. react?

7. China s Foreign Policy. What does the rapid rise of China as a superpower mean for other countries in the region and the U.S.?

8. U.S. Trade Policy. As other nations compete with the U.S. for global influence, Secretary of State John Kerry takes the reins as a free market matchmaker.