I believe a basic test exists of our capacity to learn and the measure of our love of learning. Here is the test: When you and I do not know what to do or how to proceed to achieve a particular outcome—when we are confronted with a problem that has no clear answer and no prescribed pattern for resolution—how do we learn what to do?
This was precisely the situation in which Nephi found himself as he was commanded to build a ship. “And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters” (1 Nephi 17:8).
Nephi was not a sailor. He had been reared in Jerusalem, an inland city, rather than along the borders of the Mediterranean Sea. It seems unlikely that he knew much about or had experience with the tools and skills necessary to build a ship. He may not have ever previously seen an oceangoing vessel. In essence, then, Nephi was commanded and instructed to build something he had never built before in order to go someplace he had never been before.
Now I doubt any of us will be commanded to build a ship as was Nephi, but each of us will have our spiritual and learning capabilities tested over and over and over again. The ever-accelerating rate of change in our modern world will force us into uncharted territory and demanding circumstances.
For example, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s graduates will have between 10 and 14 different jobs—by the time they are 38 years old. And the necessary skills to perform successfully in each job assignment will constantly change and evolve.
For much of my career as a professor, there was no Internet, no Google, no Wikipedia, no YouTube, and no TelePresence. The Internet only began to be widely used by the general public in the mid-1990s. Prior to that time, no courses were taught about and no majors were offered in Internet-related subjects. I remember teaching myself HTML and experimenting with ways student learning could be enhanced through this new and emerging technology. In contrast, most of you have never known and cannot imagine a world without the Internet and its associated technologies. I know I am revealing my advanced age, but the change from my “no Internet world” to your “Internet only world” has occurred within the last 15 years. Can we even begin to imagine how much things will continue to change during the next 15 years?
Because vast amounts of information are so readily available and sophisticated technologies make possible widespread and even global collaboration, we may be prone to put our trust in “the arm of flesh” (2 Nephi 4:34; see also 28:31) as we grapple with complex challenges and problems. We perhaps might be inclined to rely primarily upon our individual and collective capacity to reason, to innovate, to plan, and to execute. Certainly we must use our God-given abilities to the fullest, employ our best efforts, and exercise appropriate judgment as we encounter the opportunities of life. But our mortal best is never enough.
President Brigham Young testified that we are never left alone or on our own:
My knowledge is, if you will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, every man and woman will be put in possession of the Holy Ghost. . . . They will know things that are, that will be, and that have been. They will understand things in heaven, things on the earth, and things under the earth, things of time, and things of eternity, according to their several callings and capacities. [JD 1:243]
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