There are two ways we can learn. We can be forced to learn and we can learn because we want to learn. If we learn because we are forced to learn, we probably learn because of fear of penalty if we do not learn. Yes, we can learn that way, but that learning is due to a negative power over us, and it is likely we will not remember the things learned and we will likely not apply that learning to improve our lives.
If we learn because we want to learn, we learn because we are gaining a love of knowledge. We are excited about learning, and we want to continue learning and we want to improve our lives by application to our lives of the knowledge we have gained.
In addition, if we learn because we want to learn, we are learning using the methods given by God for the improvement of his children. The Lord said,
And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people (D&C 90:15).
And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith (D&C 109:7);
Notice that the Lord didn’t say we should learn from any books; he said we should learn from study of good or best books. Thus, we go to school, including college and graduate school, to study from the best books.
Study of the best books is important, but it is not the only way we can learn. We should also learn from the words of others that might not be published in books. But, the use of books and other words of others is not the only way to learn. We should learn from ourselves! That is, as we experience life and the results of our decisions, we should learn from our successes and from our mistakes. For example, I am a runner, and I know from my reading that it is important for me to get sufficient sleep each night. However, I get busy and find it difficult to go to bed at a reasonable time. I am forced by society to arise early enough to meet my obligations as a husband, father, and student, and I find I have had insufficient sleep. Sure enough, after several nights of insufficient sleep my performance as a runner deteriorates. I then focus on several nights of sufficient sleep, and my performance improves. I learn from experience that I need more sleep.
What does this mean to us as parents or children. It means that we must be allowed to make mistakes and to learn from our mistakes. Well, this is easily said, but what kind of mistakes should we be allowed to make. Obviously, if the mistakes will do us serious harm, we shouldn’t be allowed to make those mistakes. Thus, society and parents have rules and other provisions to protect our youth. So, let me rephrase this concept of parenting. We must allow our children to make mistakes as long as those mistakes do not cause serious harm to our children (or to ourselves). Notice that I said “serious harm”. All mistakes cause harm of some kind, and we parents must be satisfied that the mistakes will not cause serious harm to our children. Through our mistakes, we can learn better ways to do things.
Joseph Smith and several other leaders of the church spent several months in jail in Liberty, Missouri. During this time, the members of the church suffered great atrocities from mobs. Joseph asked the Lord how long the Saints would have to suffer, and he received the following answer.
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good (D&C 122:7).
Imagine that! The Lord said the atrocities suffered by the Saints would be for their good, because those atrocities would give the Saints experience! That is, the Saints would learn patience and love from the things they experienced. We parents must allow our children to learn from their experiences, as long as those experiences don’t do serious harm to our children. Not necessarily serious harm as we think of harm but as the Lord thinks of harm. Our vision of life is limited to this mortal life, but the Lord’s vision of life is eternal, this mortal life being only a small part of our total experience.