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Social Responsibility Prevails Over Personal Choice in 29th Annual Think-Off Debate

Blaine Rada is America’s Greatest Thinker for 2022

Finalists stand in a line with an American flag behind them.
Matthew Anderson, left, of Sunnyvale, California, Dennis Nau of Fergus Falls, Blaine Rada of Darien, Illinois, and Ron Stewart of Coon Rapids are the 29th annual Great American Think-Off finalists in the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center contest.
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NEW YORK MILLS — The 29th annual Great American Think-Off debate Saturday, June 11, wrestled with the question “Which should be more important: personal choice or social responsibility?”

The answer? Social responsibility, according to an audience of over 200 in New York Mills, who decided by majority vote that Blaine Rada of Darien, Illinois, made the stronger argument, topping Dennis Nau of Fergus Falls, who was defending personal choice in the final round of debate.

In the first round, Nau prevailed over Ron Stewart of Coon Rapids with each arguing their personal points of view on their common stance that personal choice should be more important than social responsibility.

In the second round, Rada garnered more votes than Matt Anderson of Sunnyvale, California, with each presenting their unique arguments to support their shared position that social responsibility should be more important than personal choice.

All four finalists brought up excellent points in defending their stances on this year’s philosophical quandary, causing audience members to really grapple with choosing which debater made the best argument.

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Stewart opened the debate and focused his argument on the idea that personal choice allows people to be more forward thinking, thus being more important than social responsibility, which may in turn be defined by the wrong people or morals. He stated, “Personal choice, in my experience, is more important because it not only allows the individual to strive but because it allows for society as a whole to benefit.”

Throughout his two rounds of debate, Nau reiterated his point that personal choice shapes progress in social responsibility, which changes over time and with different segments of the population. He provided many examples of people in history who have used personal choice to bravely stand up against what was considered socially responsible at the time to help abolish atrocities such as slavery, the Holocaust, etc.

Finalist Anderson argued social responsibility is more critical than ever as we confront the great challenges before us such as climate change, gun safety, and equity. He posited that a healthy democracy allows people to elect leaders who decide policies, thus ensuring social responsibility serves the common good. He stated, “As citizens, the ultimate responsibility is not just making socially responsible decisions but educating ourselves so our “socially responsible” decisions are truly net positive – and not an illusion.”

Eventual winner Rada based his stance on the idea that our personal choices depend on a foundation of social responsibility. He contended that the cure for most societal ills is simply to be better listeners and sincerely seek to understand others’ perspectives. He stated, “There’s a difference between having a right and doing the right thing. We have the right to make personal choices, but we still need to make the right ones.”

For 29 years, armchair philosophers have gathered in rural west central Minnesota for an exhibition of civil discourse on a variety of philosophical quandaries. Each year, on a Saturday night in June, in the local high school auditorium, four finalists from across the United States stand at podiums surrounded by flowers on loan from a local greenhouse and flanked by US flags, engaging in civil debate in defense of their position on the year’s question.

This celebration of civil discourse, listening, and big thinking has taken place in rural Minnesota for nearly three decades. The question changes each year, but for the most part, the process does not, save for adjusting with the times and the inevitable technology changes: in the late 1990s, the debate was broadcast live on C-SPAN; today, it’s livestreamed on YouTube.

The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center has already begun planning for the 30th annual Great American Think-Off on June 10, 2023. Those who would like to get involved should email info@kulcher.org or call 218-385-3339.

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