TO THINK FOR OURSELVES
by Scott Higginson
I remember learning from Eugene the term: “periodicity.” I remember it quite clearly. He indicated that periodicity was the literary tool of placing the most important item last in any string of thoughts, lists, or clauses separated by commas; because the last mentioned term or phrase would be the most remembered by the reader. It may have been a term he coined himself as I can’t find this definition in the dictionary…maybe he even coined it on the spot while teaching. That has never bothered or lessened its credibility as a literary term to me. Importantly, however, it stuck in my mind. I remember him giving as an example the standard: red, white, and blue and indicating that under the rule of periodicity, blue would be the most important color to the writer. I’ve used this tool throughout my professional career, which has included a tremendous amount of writing and speeches/talks. My degree from BYU was in journalism and political science and I was an editor at BYU’s Daily Universe for several semesters and employed periodicity in my writing there. I’ve even shared with employees whose work I’ve edited and approved that they should use this tool in whatever work they prepare. So the practice continues to spread. Now, where he said this, I’m struggling to recall as I don’t fully remember if it was in an English class or if he shared this term as part of one of his Sunday School lessons which I enjoyed attending—at least until I was called to teach a teenage Sunday School class where I think an England daughter as a member.
Which leads to my second strong memory of Eugene. His teaching in Sunday School was so refreshing. It was never canned. He was always well prepared, thoughtful and drove his listeners to think for themselves. It can be so easy when teaching Sunday School to fall into the rut of LDS thought and comfort where grand placebo-like expressions and shallow commentary fails to teach us anything or enlighten our understanding of doctrine. Eugene seemed to want us to learn something, and to learn it for ourselves by allowing our minds to think for themselves. Often he would point us in directions not common to standard Mormon thought. Not in any attempt to turn from established doctrines, but to challenge the norm, broaden our understanding of those doctrines, and to get a different perspective than what was and, sadly, is taught in most Sunday School classes. In the vanilla ways of talking and thinking that can sometimes overtake us as members of the Church, I’m glad Eugene served up some tastier cognitive treats. I’ve tried to employ his style of teaching myself in my various callings and leadership assignments. I wish I could cite an example from one of his lessons, but, I’m afraid, the dust is far too deep on the specificity of my memories. I do, however, remember how his classes made me feel, grow, and think.