“Chapter 17: Continue in the Great Process of Learning,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley (2016)
“Chapter 17,” Teachings: Gordon B. Hinckley
“I love to learn,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said. “I relish any opportunity to acquire knowledge. Indeed, I believe in and have vigorously supported, throughout my life, the pursuit of education—for myself and for others. … From my point of view, learning is both a practical matter and a spiritual one.”1
President Hinckley’s fellow servants in Church leadership marveled at his gift for accumulating knowledge and applying it in his work. 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.”2
In his lifelong efforts to learn and improve himself, President Hinckley followed the example of his parents. He related the following account of how his father, Bryant S. Hinckley, was committed to learning:
“When he was about the age that I am now, he was fully retired. But he was active. He lived in a rather simple but comfortable home in a rural area. He had an orchard around him and enjoyed giving away the fruit. The yard of his home included lawns and shrubs and trees. It had a rock wall about two feet high separating one level from another. Whenever the weather was good he would sit on the wall, an old hat on his head to shade his eyes from the summer sun. When we went to visit him, I would sit at his side. With a little prompting he would talk of his life. …
“He was an educator. He was a successful businessman. He presided over the largest stake in the Church with more than 15,000 members. He served as a mission president and in many other capacities. And now he was retired, and he sat on the wall. He was a great reader with a wonderful library. He was an excellent speaker and writer. Almost to the time he died, just short of the age of 94, he read and wrote and contemplated the knowledge that had come to him.
“I discovered that when he sat on the wall, hours at a time on a warm day, he would reflect on the things he had read from his library.
“I think he grew old gracefully and wonderfully. He had his books with the precious treasures they contained of the thoughts of great men and women of all the ages of time. He never ceased to learn, and as he sat on the wall he thought deeply of what he had read the night before. …
“… Why am I telling you of an old man and the wall on which he sat? I am telling you because I think it has a lesson for each of us. 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.”3
You belong to a church that teaches the importance of education. You have a mandate from the Lord to educate your minds and your hearts and your hands. The Lord has said, “Teach ye diligently … of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—that ye may be prepared in all things” (D&C 88:78–80).4
We of this Church have been given a marvelous promise by the Lord. Said He: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
What a remarkable statement that is. It is one of my favorite verses of scripture. It speaks of growth, of development, of the march that leads toward godhood. It goes hand in hand with these great declarations: “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36); “If a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:19). …
What a profound challenge is found in these marvelous statements. We must go on growing. We must continually learn. It is a divinely given mandate that we go on adding to our knowledge. …
The Lord wants you to educate your minds and hands, whatever your chosen field. Whether it be repairing refrigerators, or the work of a skilled surgeon, you must train yourselves. Seek for the best schooling available. Become a workman of integrity in the world that lies ahead of you. … You will bring honor to the Church and you will be generously blessed because of that training.
There can be no doubt, none whatever, that education pays. Do not short-circuit your lives. If you do so, you will pay for it over and over and over again.6
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.7
What a marvelously interesting thing it is to watch young minds stretch and strengthen. I am one who greatly appreciates the vast potential of television for good. But I also am one who decries the terrible waste of time and opportunity as children in some homes watch, hour upon hour, that which neither enlightens nor strengthens.
When I was a boy we lived in a large old house. One room was called the library. It had a solid table and a good lamp, three or four comfortable chairs with good light, and books in cases that lined the walls. There were many volumes—the acquisitions of my father and mother over a period of many years.
We were never forced to read them, but they were placed where they were handy and where we could get at them whenever we wished.
There was quiet in that room. It was understood that it was a place to study.
There were also magazines—the Church magazines and two or three other good magazines. There were books of history and literature, books on technical subjects, dictionaries, a set of encyclopedias, and an atlas of the world. There was no television, of course, at that time. Radio came along while I was growing up. But there was an environment, an environment of learning. I would not have you believe that we were great scholars. But we were exposed to great literature, great ideas from great thinkers, and the language of men and women who thought deeply and wrote beautifully.
In so many of our homes today there is not the possibility of such a library. Most families are cramped for space. But with planning there can be a corner, there can be an area that becomes something of a hideaway from the noises about us where one can sit and read and think. It is a wonderful thing to have a desk or a table, be it ever so simple, on which are found the standard works of the Church, a few good books, the magazines issued by the Church, and other things worthy of our reading.
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. …
Parents, … let your children be exposed to great minds, great ideas, everlasting truth, and those things which will build and motivate for good. … Try to create within your home an atmosphere of learning and the growth which will come of it.8
This is the great day of opportunity for you young people, this marvelous time to be upon the earth. You stand at the summit of all of the past ages. You are exposed to all of the learning of all who have walked the earth, that learning being distilled down into courses where you can acquire knowledge in a relatively short time, that knowledge which men stumbled over in learning through all of the centuries past. Do not sell yourselves short. Do not miss your great opportunity. Get at it, work at it, study hard.9
It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can. … Education is the key which will unlock the door of opportunity for you. It is worth sacrificing for. It is worth working at, and if you educate your mind and your hands, you will be able to make a great contribution to the society of which you are a part, and you will be able to reflect honorably on the Church of which you are a member. My dear young brothers and sisters, take advantage of every educational opportunity that you can possibly afford, and you fathers and mothers, encourage your sons and daughters to gain an education which will bless their lives.10
Perhaps you do not have the funds to get all the schooling you would desire. Make your money go as far as you can, and take advantage of scholarships, grants, and loans within your capacity to repay.11
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. Now is the great day of preparation for each of you. If it means sacrifice, then sacrifice. That sacrifice will become the best investment you have ever made, for you will reap returns from it all the days of your lives.12
I urge each of you young women to get all of the schooling you can get. You will need it for the world into which you will move. Life is becoming so exceedingly competitive. … The world is changing, and it is so very important that we equip ourselves to move with that change. But there is a bright side to all of this. No other generation in all of history has offered women so many opportunities. Your first objective should be a happy marriage, sealed in the temple of the Lord, and followed by the rearing of a good family. Education can better equip you for the realization of those ideals.13
There are tremendous responsibilities for women in the Church as well as in the community consistent with and in total harmony with marriage, motherhood, and the rearing of good and able children.14
The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. You can include in your dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.15
I am grateful that women today are afforded the same opportunity [as men] to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge. You are as entitled as are men to the Spirit of Christ, which enlightens every man and woman who comes into the world. (See D&C 84:46.) Set your priorities in terms of marriage and family, but also pursue educational programs which will lead to satisfying work and productive employment in case you do not marry, or to a sense of security and fulfillment in the event you do marry.16
You [young men] face great challenges that lie ahead. You are moving into a world of fierce competition. You must get all of the education you can. The Lord has instructed us concerning the importance of education. It will qualify you for greater opportunities. It will equip you to do something worthwhile in the great world of opportunity that lies ahead. If you can go to college and that is your wish, then do it. If you have no desire to attend college, then go to a vocational or business school to sharpen your skills and increase your capacity.17
I hope you [young people] will look upon the educational opportunity that you have as a great blessing. I know it is a grind. I know it is difficult. I know you get discouraged at times. I know you wonder why you are doing it at times. But keep on, keep hammering away, and keep learning. You will never regret it as long as you live but will count it as a great blessing.18
I am awed by the great forces of knowledge represented in our time. Never before have so many been educated in the learning of the world. What a powerful thing it is—the intensive schooling of a large percentage of the youth of the world, who meet daily at the feet of instructors to garner knowledge from all the ages of man.
The extent of that knowledge is staggering. It encompasses the stars of the universe, the geology of the earth, the history of nations, the culture and language of peoples, the operation of governments, the laws of commerce, the behavior of the atom, the functions of the body, and the wonders of the mind.
With so much knowledge available, one would think that the world might well be near a state of perfection. Yet we are constantly made aware of the other side of the coin—of the sickness of society, of the contentions and troubles that bring misery into the lives of millions.
Each day we are made increasingly aware of the fact that life is more than science and mathematics, more than history and literature. There is need for another education, without which the substance of secular learning may lead only to destruction. 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.
… While serving in England as a missionary, I went to the London Central YMCA. I suppose that old building has long since gone, but I can never forget the words that faced visitors in the foyer each time they entered. They were the words of Solomon: “With all thy getting get understanding.” (Prov. 4:7.)
Understanding of what? Understanding of ourselves, of the purposes of life, of our relationship to God, who is our Father, of the great divinely given principles that for centuries have provided the sinew of man’s real progress! …
As we pursue our secular studies, let us also add to our lives the cultivation of the Spirit. If we do so, God will bless us with that peace and those blessings which come from Him alone.19
Jesus said: “Learn of me. … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29–30.)
I should like to suggest that we follow that injunction given by the Son of God. With all of our learning, let us also learn of him. With all of our study, we need to seek knowledge of the Master. That knowledge will complement in a wonderful way our secular training and will give us character and a fulness to life that can come in no other way.20
I challenge you to never forget that the schooling of the spirit is as important, if not more so, than the schooling of the mind.21
Our great program of Church education moves forward. The work of training students through the seminary and institute program is constantly being enlarged. … You who have been the recipients of this program know of its tremendous value. We urge all for whom it is available to take advantage of it. We do not hesitate to promise that your knowledge of the gospel will be increased, your faith will be strengthened, and you will develop wonderful associations.22
Let us take upon ourselves the name of the Lord and then with faith go forth to share with relevance that which will affect the lives of mankind and bring peace and joy to the world. The world needs a generation of men and women of learning and influence who can and will stand up and in sincerity and without equivocation declare that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ.23
What a remarkable thing is learning, the process whereby the accumulated knowledge of the centuries has been summarized and filtered so that in a brief period we can learn what was first learned only through long exercises of research and trial and error.
Education is the great conversion process under which abstract knowledge becomes useful and productive activity. It is something that need never stop. No matter how old we grow, we can acquire knowledge and use it. We can gather wisdom and profit from it. We can be entertained through the miracle of reading and exposure to the arts and add to the blessing and fulfillment of living. The older I grow, the more I enjoy the words of thoughtful writers, ancient and modern, and the savoring of that which they have written.24
None of us … knows enough. The learning process is an endless process. We must read, we must observe, we must assimilate, and we must ponder that to which we expose our minds. … I believe in improvement. I believe in growth. …
Keep on growing, my brothers and sisters, whether you are thirty or whether you are seventy. Your industry in so doing will cause the years to pass faster than you might wish, but they will be filled with a sweet and wonderful zest that will add flavor to your life and power to your teaching.25
Immediately to the east of [Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah] is a mountain. [Many], I am confident, have looked up at that mountain and thought, “If I could just climb to the top it would be interesting to see the valley on the other side.” But those of you who have made that climb have discovered that the valley is only a small and rather shallow depression, and that beyond are many other higher mountains to be climbed.
So I hope it will be with you. … You will recognize that while your learning experience [may have] been great, there are even greater opportunities and challenges ahead. Add to your store of information, increase your knowledge, continue the great process of learning.26
Why is it important to “acquire more and more light” through education? (See section 1.) How can learning help us progress individually? How can learning help us “illuminate a darkened world”?
Review President Hinckley’s account of how his parents created an atmosphere of learning in their home (see section 2). How can we help children develop a love for learning? How can we help children desire to seek learning from sources that enlighten and motivate for good?
How does education “unlock the door of opportunity” for youth and young adults? (See section 3.) How can youth and young adults be resourceful in taking advantage of opportunities for education?
How would you explain the meaning of the phrase “the schooling of the spirit”? (See section 4.) How can we educate the heart, character, and spirit? In your life, how have spiritual learning and secular learning complemented one another?
Why should we continue to learn throughout our lives? (See section 5.) How can we maintain a lifelong love for learning? What have you learned recently that has been especially valuable to you?
One idea to encourage discussion about President Hinckley’s teachings is to ask participants to share what they have learned from their personal study of the chapter (see pages vi–vii in this book for additional ideas).