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Think-Off attendance marginally acceptable

Here in lakes country, there are plenty of things to do on a Saturday night. Thinking critically, in a public forum, may not interest everyone, but it sure should interest more.

The annual Great American Think-Off, presented by the Regional Cultural Center, in New York Mills, is a crowning achievement to the ideal that some of us ponder life's greater questions with sincerity and purpose.

What's sad is the number of empty seats in the auditorium during the philosophy debate and the seeming lack of interest from the surrounding region.

I'm not blaming residents of New York Mills. In all of northwestern Minnesota, I've found little to compare, on a municipal level, to the spunk, creativity and willingness to embrace art and culture than in that little town.

I also don't expect C-SPAN to haul cameras into NY Mills every year and cover the debate like the early years. But then, I wonder, where is C-SPAN and why aren't they here this year?

Having attended numerous Think-Offs, I know what the experience is all about and maybe that's why more people don't show. Perhaps, they're not aware that you'll laugh and be intrigued. Your brain will snap to attention and there's a level of intensity not to be found on whatever reality television program is blaring in the living room.

The Think-Off reaches out to the world and says, "Hey, get off your couch and think."

Take nine-year-old Ryan Harrington, from Duluth, who was one of the four finalists in the junior Think-Off essay contest. The question was, "Do the wealthy have an obligation to help the poor?"

"With consumerism increasing, society frequently condones the thought that personal finance equates to personal happiness. Those lucky enough to be born into wealthy families can get a good education and comply (with) this popular opinion. But the poor are doomed to strive for the basic needs essential to life."

This from a nine-year-old.

It's in the nature of young people to answer 'yes,' more often than not, on this topic. They have the innocence of youth and are taught about sharing and fairness. It's only with age that many of us relinquish thoughts of cooperation for the seemingly social acceptance of capitalistic competition.

But Caitlyn Peterson, another nine-year-old, from Fostoria, Iowa, had the gumption to say 'no.'

"A convergence of economic factors and my father becoming ill last August has lowered our standard of living considerably, if you look strictly at monetary factors. I choose to ask more of myself," Peterson said.

This little girl blew me away.

"I, personally, am more than willing to help the poor in spirit, who believe their happiness is in expensive homes, cars and other possessions. From my life of true wealth, I would love to help the poor any way I can, and help them fly away from consumerism to new heights of blessing."

Sure, there should have been more people in the NY Mills school auditorium for this year's competition. But, at the very least, thoughtful consideration to a question that really matters in our world was pondered, by people of all ages nationwide, and for that, I think the organizers of the Think-Off should again be commended.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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