Fear and loving at the Great American Think-Off


“Love or fear: which motivates us more?”

That’s this year’s question at the 22nd annual Great American Think-Off in New York Mills Saturday, June 14. For the first time, all four finalists from the more than 200 candidates are Minnesotans.

Trying to defend his title is last year’s greatest thinker, Paul Terry, who is the chief science officer for StayWell Health Management in Eagan. He comes down on the side of fear.

Also arguing the motivational strength of fear is Jason Steck, an attorney and judicial law clerk for Judge John P. Smith on the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He’s a former Air Force officer who also taught political science and international relations at Creighton University in Omaha.

Coming down forcefully for love are Therese Helker, of Pine City, and Jennifer Nelson, a Morris native now living in the Twin Cities. Helker is a Lutheran minister and is now a full-time hospice chaplain for Allina Health. Nelson has worked on social policy and community engagement at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Office of Minnesota Secretary of State while finishing a master’s of public policy degree at the University of Minnesota Humphreyt School of Public Affairs.

Jamie Robertson, executive director of the Cultural Center at New York Mills, said Terry is the first finalist back to defend his title in successive years. Terry won last year’s competition by insisting it is more ethical to compromise than to stick to one’s principles.

The creative folks at New York Mills drew inspiration, and perhaps motivation, from a couple of not-too-surprising sources in coming up with the love and fear challenge this year. John Lennon, they note on their website, came down on the side of love when writing “there are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance.”

Countering those sentiments, the poet William Stafford wrote, “What you fear will not go away; it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you. That’s the world, and we all live there.”

What a challenge that sets for the four finalists for America’s Greatest Thinker. It is far easier to conclude, as Minnesotda 2020 has done on past occasions, that New York Mills is living proof that creative local people can motivate communities to grow, prosper and create enriched standards of living.

Meanwhile, you can still join with local people to resolve this year’s Think-Off, said Robertson. Go online to links above or call 218-385-3339 to secure tickets. The audience selects the winner.