For many of us learning is a mixed bag. We may be good at learning or we may struggle to retain information we read. Many of us learn best when we do something versus read about something. But no matter how we prefer to learn, the question we need to answer is “Have we learned to love learning?”
Why the need to learn?
The purpose of the whole plan of salvation is for God’s children to learn to become like Him. One of God’s great attributes is that he is omniscient. He knows everything there is to know. He has to know everything in order to do what he does. If we want to become like Him we will have to learn what he has learned.
It doesn’t matter how we learn it, whether through books, conversations, doing, listening, etc. We just need to learn it. The more we learn the better our chances of coming to understand God. But this also requires that we learn to put our knowledge to good use in keeping the commandments. This is what the lesson says of President Hinckley’s ability to learn and use his knowledge.
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed: “I have never met an individual who can become so well informed through reading and through contact with people. When he spends an evening at dinner with someone, he leaves knowing something about that individual’s expertise.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, said: “What makes President Hinckley unique is that he remembers what he has read and distills that which he wishes to retain. His is an integrated intellect. He can draw upon what he knows to make prudent decisions.”
It appears from these quotes by his fellow apostles that President Hinckley was constantly looking for ways to learn something new that might help him accomplish more good and make better decisions. This is what is known in the scriptures as doing something with an eye single to the glory of God. He didn’t want to learn so he could advance himself. He wanted to learn in order to improve his service to his God.
The time to begin
Here is a quote from President Hinckley:
We must never cease to learn. We believe in eternal progression and that this life is a part of eternity to be profitably lived until the very end.
Some may say, “I’m not fond of learning. I didn’t like school, and I don’t want to have to return to books now. I’ll worry about learning what I need to know in the next life.” The problem with that logic is that we will be judged on what we did with our time in mortality. If we spend our time here intellectually loafing about then we will have shown the Lord that we are not interested in what he has to offer us in the way of knowledge.
Those who seek to know and to understand as the Lord knows and understands realize that knowledge is a constant cycle. What we learn today will become the building blocks for what we are able to learn tomorrow. Wisdom is the intelligent or righteous use of knowledge. But without knowledge there can be no wisdom.
If you look at the behavior of all the apostles and prophets of this dispensation you will find that they are all avid learners. They read, talk to, listen to, think about, and ponder over what they learn. They accept knowledge from any righteous source they find and try to learn how to use it to better serve the Lord. Some of our latter-day prophets read a book a week right up to the year of their death.
I’m not saying that we can’t be righteous unless we can read a book a week. Please don’t get me wrong here. What I am saying is that they all have, and have had, a thirst for knowledge because knowledge is power. It is power in the world and it is power in the eternities. Without knowledge we cannot be saved, for we cannot be saved in ignorance (Doctrine and Covenants 131:6).
Joseph Smith said, “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.” So the acquisition of knowledge is directly related to our own salvation. Here is a quote from the RS/PH manual from 2011 (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 261–70).
The Prophet Joseph Smith “loved learning,” wrote George Q. Cannon. “He loved knowledge for its righteous power. Through the tribulations which had surrounded him from the day when first he made known to a skeptical world his communion with the heavens, he had been ever advancing in the acquisition of intelligence. The Lord had commanded him to study, and he was obeying. … His mind, quickened by the Holy Spirit, grasped with readiness all true principles, and one by one he mastered these branches and became in them a teacher.”
Here is a quote from President Hinckley.
It is not enough just to live, just to survive. It is incumbent on each of us to equip ourselves to do something worthwhile in society—to acquire more and more light, so that our personal light can help illuminate a darkened world. And this is made possible through learning, through educating ourselves, through progressing and growing in both mind and spirit.
Learning to love learning
The love of learning begins at home. It requires access to books, whether physical or electronic. A child accepts as normal whatever is taught by the parents. If the parents model reading and a love of learning, then that is what is “normal” to the children of that home. When parents talk about ideas and the things they have read that usually becomes what the children seek to participate in, because they can join in the conversation.
As a young teenager I got tired of never understanding the quotes my parents used and referred to. I found out that they came from classical literature, so I vowed to myself that I would read all those books so I could understand what my parents were talking about. That project changed my life. My vocabulary exploded, and I discovered new worlds of thought and imagination.
Because of the books I read, so I could feel more comfortable with my parents, I have been able to be comfortable having a conversation with almost anyone of any profession, and in any station of life. That one decision changed the course of my life.
I discovered that there can be joy in learning new things. It takes perseverance, but the rewards are worth it. For regular learning to become part of our life, it has to be like our decision to get out of bed each day. We don’t question it, we have just learned that we need to do it. We no longer have to make the decision, because that decision was made long ago. Now we are just following through with it.
Begin early in exposing children to books. The mother who fails to read to her small children does a disservice to them and a disservice to herself. It takes time, yes, much of it. It takes self-discipline. It takes organizing and budgeting the minutes and hours of the day. But it will never be a bore as you watch young minds come to know characters, expressions, and ideas. Good reading can become a love affair, far more fruitful in long term effects than many other activities in which children use their time. …
Being your best
I do not care what you want to be as long as it is honorable. A car mechanic, a brick layer, a plumber, an electrician, a doctor, a lawyer, a merchant, but not a thief. But whatever you are, take the opportunity to train for it and make the best of that opportunity. Society will reward you according to your worth as it perceives that worth.
Notice that he doesn’t say you have to be the best. He says we need to learn to make the best of our opportunities. As long as what we do is honest and worthy of our efforts, then we need to become the best we can be at that thing. That is good enough.
We cannot become the best version of ourselves without learning, practicing, growing, and study in our chosen field, whether it is in mechanics, bricklaying, the arts, or engineering. If I am a sanitation engineer, I owe my employer my best efforts, which includes learning all I can about how to do my job better and better, and how to be a profitable employee. This is part of what the Lord means for us to do when he tells us to magnify or multiply our talents.
Tutoring our minds and spirits
As important as it is to be good at whatever we choose to do in life, it is more important that we remember that this life is only temporary. The real, the permanent, the lasting life we need to worry about most is what happens to us after we leave mortality.
This is what we are focusing on when we read the scriptures, memorize passages that impress us, read and ponder the teachings of the prophets, pray and fast, serve and sacrifice for the Lord. All these things prepare us for success in the hereafter, as well as bring us happiness and peace in the present.
There is need for another education ... I refer to the education of the heart, of the conscience, of the character, of the spirit—these indefinable aspects of our personalities which determine so certainly what we are and what we do in our relationships one with another.
The spiritual education we receive from the Holy Ghost through our study of the scriptures, our prayers, and our pondering, changes more than just our level of knowledge. These activities we are taught in the Church change our attitudes and our dispositions. These activities change our perspectives and outlooks on life. They allow us to see our secular education for what it is, good, but of the earth, and mainly useful during our time in mortality. What we learn on the spiritual side of life is forever, including our time on earth.
It’s still in there
My mother is getting to that age where she is beginning to forget things, a lot of things. She still studies, but she seems to forget things as fast as she learns them. This has been quite discouraging to her, as she has always had a love of new knowledge.
Recently she had a dream wherein she was quoting poems and works of literature she had learned when she was much younger. She quoted them in their entirety and knew they were correct. She had forgotten that she had even known those passages. When she awoke she wept with joy that all that knowledge was still in there, somewhere.
Age is not an excuse for slacking in our efforts to learn. Whatever we learn will be there in the resurrection, even if we forget it in the here and now. My mother received a testimony of this through a little tender mercy from the Lord in the form of a dream.
We are not going to be graded on how many facts we have acquired. The Lord is more concerned with our attitude than our aptitude. If we have learned to love the pursuit of knowledge, and have sought to learn wisdom in its application, that is all He is looking for. Like our obedience to the gospel, it requires that we endure to the end of our days. As long as we are capable of rational thought, we need to be seeking to broaden our horizons and enlarge our vision of life and the plan of salvation our Father in Heaven has given us.