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Compromise takes the cake at Think-Off

Paul Terry, CEO of a Minnesota health management company, took home the title of “America’s Greatest Thinker” after winning the 2013 Great American Think-Off this past weekend in New York Mills. Marie Nitke/FOCUS

Compromise won out over principle in this year’s Great American Think-Off.

Paul Terry, of Waconia, Minn., took home the title of “America’s Greatest Thinker” after winning the 2013 philosopher’s debate, held this past Saturday in New York Mills.

Debaters addressed the question, “Which is more ethical: Sticking to principle or being willing to compromise?”

Four finalists debated their sides, with two arguing for compromise and two for principle. After preliminary and final rounds, Terry took home the gold with his argument in favor of compromise.

Key to Terry’s argument was the statement that compromise “is in no way the weaker option” and does not mean principles are sacrificed. Instead, he argued, compromise can be useful when trying to move your own principles forward.

Contrary to what his opponents may suspect, he said, “I am not a soft-hearted appeaser. I go to battle for what I believe in.”

Terry is the CEO of StayWell Health Management, and the former president and CEO of Park Nicollet Institute. He is a former Senior Fulbright Scholar and a past president of the Minnesota Public Health Association.

He said there were plenty of things that he himself would never compromise on, such as the safety of his family. But, he added, in most cases, it’s best to compromise on things, “when it becomes more ethical to do so,” such as in the case of a stalemate or gridlock, when it’s better to further your own principles in any way possible, rather than get nothing done.

His opponent in the finals, Caroline Sposto of Memphis, Tenn., argued that sticking to principle maintains a clear conscience, and, “There is no peace of mind without a clear conscience.”

“We live in a culture of compromise, and it’s not doing any of us any good,” she said. Instead, people need to “stick to our convictions… nothing is more life defining than our personal principles.”

Sposto, an author and long-time communications professional, took home a silver medal for her efforts. Bronze medals were awarded to David Eckel, an IT consultant from Clayton, N.C., and David Lapakko, a professor of Communication Studies at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

Eckel stated that compromising principles is not the ethical option, but rather engaging “in the hard work of questioning one’s principles and the equally hard work…of sticking to them.” Lapakko argued that compromise “shows a healthy respect for others and a healthy degree of humility, as well.”

Finalists each receive an honorarium of $500 plus transportation and expenses to attend the debate.

The Think-Off, an annual event that celebrated 21 years this year, was moderated by John Forde, host of the public television show, “Mental Engineering.”  Forde said this year’s Think-Off generated more questions from the audience than any previous debate.

The two finalists, and then ultimately the winner, of the debate are chosen through an audience vote. Finalists answer questions submitted by the audience and prepared by representatives of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, which puts on the nationally-recognized event. The McKnight Foundation and many local businesses and individuals provide financial support for the Think-Off.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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