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Morris native conquers all with love at Great American Think-Off

Jennifer Nelson’s argument in favor of love motivated the audience to vote for her as the 2014 Think-Off champion.

NEW YORK MILLS -- “All you need is love,” may have been made famous by the Beatles, but the sentiment led the way to victory at the 22nd annual Great American Think-Off in New York Mills last Saturday.

Contestants were asked to take a stance and answer this year’s question, “Love or fear: Which motivates us more?”

Jennifer Nelson, of Morris, Minn., won the debate on the side of love, with the story of her personal experience with love as a motivator after suffering permanent injuries in a car crash.

“I came to learn that fear is not a motivating force, though it may masquerade itself as such in the short term,” Nelson stated. “However, once danger has passed, the fear that remains is no longer protective, let alone motivational. Rather, it becomes paralyzing and destructive.”

“This thing that helped assure your survival, when it lingers, cuts you off from the very joys of life that you survived for,” she continued. “The only thing that helped lead me out of this darkness was the gentle and patient love of my friends and family members.”

“I’m not afraid,” Nelson announced confidently, after being named the representative for love in the final round.

“I am,” replied her opponent, Jason Steck of Minneapolis, Minn., who argued in favor of fear’s motivational power.

Steck maintained that fear can be useful, “like a jet engine” that can be piloted and channeled as a productive force to motivate a person to change or act.

“I live my life in fear,” Steck wrote in his essay. “I fear unemployment, failure and ruin. I fear aging. I fear dying alone. … Fear helped power me – along-side some of my students that were now my peers – through law school. It encouraged me to get the top grades, to hunger after a job as a necessity rather than an entitlement, and to always – always – plan for the possibility that today’s career can vanish and that new skills and old friends will be needed to find the next.”

Nelson said she was careful not to invalidate the other debater’s’ experiences on which their arguments were based, “but I still felt really strongly about my own position.”

In order to prepare for the event, Nelson compiled playlists of songs about love to listen to, to get into the right mindset for the debate.

 “I know this is cheesy, but it was a debate about love or fear,” she said. “Rather than fear the strength of their positions, I loved the strength of my own. That’s what I hung on to in the end.”

Therese Helker, from Pine City, Minn. and Paul Terry, 2013’s Think-Off champion from Waconia, Minn. were both eliminated in the first round of the debate.

Each of the finalists received an equal cash prize, along with travel expenses and a medal.