Monday, October 24, 2016

A communist in the audience

Flickr photo by TEDx UniversityofTulsa
As a teenager, I spent a couple of summers working in the Harding University media center.

(If you need an overhead projector set up, I am your man.)

One of the perks of the job was setting up AV equipment for various seminars on campus—the best of which was the “Youth Leadership Forum.”  Interesting speeches, plus a good number of high school girls in attendance.

My favorite part of the forum?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

As I recall, Harding president Cliff Ganus would kick off a session talking about some patriotic theme.  He wouldn’t get too far into his speech, though, before a man in the audience would stand and interrupt.

How dare the Harding president fill these young people’s minds with such terrible ideas? the man would ask.

And it would soon become apparent that the debating gentleman was actually a communist, and he would begin to put forward—somewhat convincingly—the benefits of the communist system.

And we media center workers—sitting up in the audio booth of the American Heritage auditorium—could see all of this unfolding below us.

Now, Dr. Ganus handled the man in stride, but the students in the audience … well, that was a different matter.

The more heated the communist got, the more heated the audience got.

Some scattered boos.  People jumping up from their seats.  Questions being yelled.

A few students singing God Bless America.


I worried about the communist.  Would he be okay?  Would he make it out alive?

At the peak of the unrest, Dr. Ganus would regain control of the situation and ask everyone to be seated.  He would then properly introduce the communist—who happened to be a member of the university faculty.

You see, the communist was a plant.  He was only pretending.

And, in the end, the students were encouraged to think about their experience and were reminded of how important it is to listen to other people’s perspectives.

A lesson in showing civility … in being respectful … even when we disagree.