Thinkers gather to discuss ideas

RANCHO SANTA FE — Once a month a group of thinkers meets at the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club to discuss world issues. These 12 are members of Great Decisions, an organization that has been around since 1954 with branches all over the country. These conversations come to conclusions that are recorded and sent to the Foreign Policy Association. From there they become public opinion that are hopefully noted by national and world leaders.
“This is the country’s longest standing global affairs education program. There are over 1,000 branches in the United States,” said Holly Wilson, of Rancho Santa Fe, and one of the founders of the local branch. She and Sally O’Hare had each belonged to the organization in other states and decided to get one going locally.
“She gets the credit for getting the ball rolling 10 years ago,” Wilson said.
The Foreign Policy Association provides materials used by discussion groups to reach informed opinions on the issues and participate in the foreign policy process, she said.
Great Decisions is based on writings of experts in the field of foreign policy from all over the world like professors at major universities, the Brookings Institute, think tanks and the like.
“We have eight issues to cover during the year, what is going on in the world. Each writer has several different points of view and gives you different ways to look at the issue,” she said. “It (Great Decision) is nonpartisan, but the issues are sometimes controversial and complex.”
The discussion is intended to be thoughtful and bring people together to express their ideas and opinions and learn from others.
It is not an organization for people who want to get into heated back-and-forth arguments. It is more for the intellectual.
“You want to learn. You want to discuss. You have an open mind,” she said. “There is no arguing. It is a safe environment where people give ideas and opinions and everything is welcome. There is never a hint of confrontation.
“At the end of each session there is a ballot. We send in our opinions on what our government should be doing,” she said.
Upcoming topics include proliferation of nuclear weapons, global governance and the volatile region of the Caucasus, on the border of Europe and Asia.
Already discussed and timely is what can be seen globally as the weakening of U.S. influence.
Wilson said the point of the discussion group is to get people thinking and learning about what goes on in the world far away from their own.
“The really important thing is to really invigorate our democracy and for citizens to know about world affairs, she said. “In schools they rarely teach civics. We are not bringing up citizens who will become involved in our government. They don’t know and so they don’t care.”
She said she would also be glad to help people start their own chapter of the organization. It is for anyone interested in expanding his or her knowledge of international relations.
To learn more, contact Wilson at


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