Looking over those missionaries, I suppose that I am here like a good example of all the problems that you will have with the language if you are going to a foreign country.
When Solomon received his calling and with it the responsibility of the kingdom, he became apprehensive and somewhat insecure because of the tremendous load and responsibility which confronted him. In words very explicit he expressed his sentiments, as we read in 1 Kings, chapter 3, verse 7: “I know not how to go out or come in.” I must tell you that, personally, I prefer the Spanish version of that verse because therein the order is reversed. Translated literally, it reads, “I know not how to come in or go out.” In this case the order is very important because “I come in,” and, after seeing so many of you here today, I would like to find the way “to go out.”
I am certain that I will find my way out when I have completed my assignment here tonight. But first I would like to share with you some thoughts that might be of help to you in your lives. So during the course of this discussion, I would ask of the Lord that he grant me that which he gave to Solomon upon hearing his fears and misgivings—the wisdom necessary to carry out my commitment.
Very possibly I will not impart to you anything original tonight. However, the many hours I have spent interviewing and visiting with young people of varying degrees of knowledge, faith, and objectives and goals in life, and of different cultures cause me to realize I have gained experience and a certain degree of knowledge and understanding which will allow me to analyze some the most common problems evident among young people today.
If this night I can stimulate you to think creatively, if I can help you to act upon correct principles, then I believe the worries of finding the way “to go out” will have been well compensated.
The Scientist and the Boatman
Perhaps if we begin with a story, it might help us to better understand the theme of this discussion, and at the same time, help to introduce it.
There once was a man of science and of great knowledge, but with a small degree of humility, and therefore of very great self-esteem, who set out to see the world and enjoy its many wonders.
One clear night, when the stars were shining in all their splendor, he came to the banks of a river in a region almost uninhabited. His intention was to cross to the other side of the river, but he found that there was no other way to cross except by a rowboat there which was run by a humble boatman.
He decided to engage the services of the boatman to take him across the river. Of course, it was not the safest way to cross, but for lack of a better way, it was the only thing he could do.
He hired the boatman and began crossing. Perhaps because he was impressed by the serenity and beauty of the starlit night, the man of science felt inclined to start a conversation with the simple boatman. Looking at the beautiful sky he asked the boatman, “Tell me, my good man, what do you know about the stars and the moon which are now shedding their light on us?”
Meek and somewhat ashamed, the boatman answered, “Well, nothing. Only that they are up there.”
With a little personal satisfaction he continued asking, “And tell me, what do you know about the constellations and the solar system?”
Very humiliated, the boatman reluctantly answered, “Nothing. No, I know nothing about these things.”
The man of science, with obvious pride, said to the boatman, “My dear boatman, you have lost half of your life by not knowing about all of these things.”
With a feeling of resignation the humble boatman continued rowing the boat toward the opposite shore, carrying the overly confident man.
Suddenly a great wind came up—a common occurrence in that part of the country—which made the boat rock violently, even to the point that it threw the boatman and the man of science overboard, into the churning water. The boatman surfaced and began swimming to shore. He looked back at the scientist who appeared to be drowning and called, “Do you know how to swim?”
With terror in his eyes the scientist replied, “No,” whereupon the boatman replied, “I’m sorry! You’ve lost all of your life.”
What is the lesson that this little story is attempting to illustrate? What is the point that I wish to emphasize in relating this story of the proud scientist?
Many times a number of you young people have had moments in your life when you have felt mixed feelings and confusion, with your priorities out of order, or, in other words, times of being all mixed up. This confusion is a result of a mind that has not set its thoughts in proper perspective. It generally follows that you confront life by reaching out for confused and diversified goals. In some cases you find yourselves overcome after having pursued goals which are out of proper priority. At other times you have, perhaps, experienced merely a feeling of spinning your wheels.
To put it another way, we could illustrate it by saying that some young people, in their search for goals and objectives in life, remind me of some of those persons seen mainly in the larger cities who run desperately to catch a bus and, after they get on, ask, “Where is this bus going?” The same thing happens to many of our young people in establishing their life goals—they confuse the objectives. They are confused on how to obtain them. They confuse the causes and effects, and then they end up at that same point and ask, “Where am I going?”
In such cases as these, it is the initial action that generally fails, or to put it in football terms, the kickoff.
A Creative Mind
At times I wonder if we know how to think, if we are developing a creative mind, because that is where all good works and all important accomplishments begin. It is in the mind where the goals to be reached in this life are fostered. We read in Proverbs, chapter 23, verse 7, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Or we can say that we are definitely in a continuous state of creation through our mental process.
Ezra J. Poulsen relates an experience he had as a student at this university. The English professor and poet was the late Alfred Osmond, and the incident, I believe, adequately reflects that which I would like to explain.
In a college English class years ago, we were assigned to write several rhymed couplets in the style of Alexander Pope. The professor required the trembling authors to read their verses aloud for criticism and review.
One of the boys refused to take part. “I’m not a poet,” he said.
The professor, a large man with bushy eyebrows and a voice of thunder, pointed a blunt finger at the student and roared, “Young man, I want you to understand you’re not a finished product. You’re still in the process of being created.”
This dramatic ten-second speech startled the entire class into a state of intense receptivity, and I doubt if anyone present ever forgot it. It was a master stroke of teaching.
Brother Poulsen continues,
For me, this remark has become a fixed belief. I am not a finished product. I am still in the process of creation. In moments of idleness, retreat, or discouragement, I seem to hear the old professor’s challenge in my ears. And I rise to do battle with my daily problems.
Quickly, new avenues of constructive effort seem to open up. Old plateaus of mediocrity are left behind. I find ever-widening horizons, because growth is the natural law of life. [This Week Magazine, 16 September 1962]
Yes, we are continually in the process of creation, and the greater our efforts, the greater the results we will obtain in this life. But in reality, what is a creative mind?
The creative mind is dynamic and always in action. The efficient manner in which we put it to work will determine just what the creative mind will produce.
To create means to project, to imagine, to discover, to invent something new or innovative in any field of action or study. Creation is also the sole act of having initiative even in the most routine tasks. The simplicity of the task doesn’t matter, as long as the final outcome results in a better and more efficient way of achieving it, for in that way a person is being creative.
To Be Creative Requires Discipline
To be creative, contrary to popular belief, one must be disciplined. There is a popular conception that “free thinking” without guidance or direction is being creative. However, this view is false. An example right at home for you students, something that you all had to learn the hard way, is that the fields of music, art, and literature all have their techniques which you must master in order to become creative in those areas.
In this respect, everyone in his own field, according to his own possibilities and talents, should be creative—not only in the arts or sciences. This concept applies universally to all persons in all of their activities.
Our personal lives in themselves are a constant creative process. The selection of our goals, the methods we use to obtain them, the determination we exert in our plan of action—all are the fruits of a creative mind which is well trained and disciplined.
Let’s see how we achieve this kind of thinking. What is the methodical path that leads us to a creative and disciplined mind?
Steps to a Creative Mind
The steps to follow are these: To observe, to ponder and to pray, to simplify and to organize, to decide and to act, and to control and to diligently pursue.
Each of these steps is indispensable to the one that follows. Let’s take a look at them separately.
The first essential step is to observe. This is to say, not just to look, but to see. We might even say to perceive, to become informed through observation.
How many times have our eyes looked over the page of a book without actually seeing it? How many times have we gazed at a ray of sunshine without seeing it, without perceiving the beautiful message of the work of the Lord?
Perhaps we could say that to observe, to see in depth, is an attitude that is essential for the creative achiever. A good example to illustrate what it means to see in depth is found in the Lord’s words to Samuel,
For the Lord seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. [1 Samuel 16:7]
Over the years I have been impressed each time that the Lord refers to those who walk in darkness or in paths of error, as he did when speaking to the people of Jerusalem through the prophet Jeremiah. He proclaimed,
Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not. [Jeremiah 5:21]
To Ponder and to Pray
One of the most important parts of the process is the second step, to ponder and to pray. These are the acts which actually initiate the action process toward creativity or achievement of worthy goals. Through this mental and spiritual process, we study, analyze, and reason with the information gathered through our observation. In a sense it is a spiritual preparation for making correct decisions, decisions which we must then carry out.
To ponder is to evaluate that which we have observed, to make it a part of ourselves, and then to receive a conviction of it through prayer. Let’s take as an example when Jesus was teaching the Nephite people and ministering to them. He turned to the multitude and spoke, saying,
Behold, my time is at hand.
I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.
Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again. [3 Nephi 17:1–3]
These words vividly portray the steps we have analyzed thus far. Please note that Jesus perceived, not just looked but rather observed profoundly, that which was happening. The multitude was not able to understand him, so he decided to send them home so that they might ponder and pray and prepare themselves for the next occasion.
Let us also note the counsel Paul gave to the young Timothy:
Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. [1 Timothy 4:15]
President McKay said on one occasion,
I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. . . . Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord. [CR, April 1967, p. 85]
To Simplify and to Organize
After having reasoned, meditated, and prayed, the next step which follows is to simplify and to organize all that which has emerged from this process with the objective of separating the fundamental from the accessory, and to arrange and give direction to the ideas.
There is often a tendency among young people to complicate matters because it somehow seems that simple things and simple ideas lack importance and validity. However, we find an example in the scriptures which demonstrates the importance of simple things. While speaking of the manner in which the gospel should be taught, the Lord revealed the following to Joseph Smith,
And for this cause, that men might be made partakers of the glories, which were to be revealed, the Lord sent forth the fullness of his gospel, his everlasting covenant, reasoning in plainness and simplicity. [D&C 133:57]
It was so important that men be partakers of his glory that the Lord sent the fullness of the gospel, reasoning in simplicity and clarity. The results of our reasoning should be of the same manner.
To Decide and to Act
After simplifying and organizing all of the ideas, the next logical step is to decide and to act. At this point it is necessary to make the decision and to eliminate any uncertainties or nonessentials. Following this comes the second part of it—the action, the climax of all the other steps. He who does not take action after the preceding process has exerted great efforts in vain; it avails him and his fellowman nothing, and he remains halfway on the road to his desired objective.
I believe that one of the most commonly used citations from the scriptures, especially among young people, is what Nephi said when his father Lehi asked him and his brothers to return to Jerusalem to the house of Laban and bring the brass plates back into the wilderness with them. Nephi answered,
I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. [1 Nephi 3:7]
While this is one of the most often quoted passages of the scriptures, we do not always grasp the full depth of the wisdom therein. If we read the previous chapter, we find that Nephi relates the important act of making a valuable decision when he said,
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, . . . having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. [1 Nephi 2:16]
The key words that I want to emphasize in this verse are, “He . . . did soften my heart.” The message that Nephi teaches us with these words is that the Spirit manifested unto him that which he wanted to know. It made him understand and see in depth. Alma once described this process as having the soul “illuminated by the light” (Alma 5:7). This spiritual manifestation that Nephi received is what caused him to believe what his father had said.
And because of it, what happened next? The Lord then spoke to Nephi saying,
Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart. [1 Nephi 2:19]
Because of Nephi’s great faith and confidence, he was promised by the Lord that, if he would keep His commandments, he would prosper and be guided to the promised land, and there would become a “ruler and a teacher over thy brethren” (1 Nephi 2:22).
Through his faithfulness and efforts, Nephi was blessed with these marvelous spiritual experiences, and at this point, as a result of his experiences, his knowledge and conviction had literally become a part of him. He internalized it.
Therefore, we see from this that, when his father approached him, he did not say, “I will go and see what happens,” or “I will go and look over the situation and then decide what to do.” But rather, his words were, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know. . . .”
Correct decisions based on correct principles lead to correct actions. And while we are on this subject, let me say, young people, that once certain decisions in life are made, it is not necessary to start over with the mental and spiritual processes each time the circumstances arise. This saves effort, time, and problems. Let’s see if we can demonstrate this with an example.
In the year 1968, when I was president of a stake in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I received a phone call from a young lady, a member of the Church, who wanted to talk with me as soon as possible. We made an appointment, and during the interview she said something to this effect, “President, as you know, I have a boyfriend who is not a member of the Church, but who is a very fine person. He loves me very much and I love him, and I tell him that often, but now I am confused because on our last date he asked me to prove my love to him.”
Well, you probably understand the test of love that the young man wanted. She continued, saying, “I am confused, President.”
I am sure you know what my counsel was to her, but that which worried me the most, what really concerned me, was her last statement, “I am confused, President.”
How could she be confused? How could she doubt, not knowing what to do or how to act? This type of decision, once made, constitutes the foundation on which we continue to build throughout life. Once you make the decision to live a clean life, once you decide to be chaste, you act accordingly, and you always live a pure life.
The changing circumstances of life are not important. Once the decision is made, on the basis of correct principles proceeding forth from an unchanging God, then that determines our course of action without the necessity of going through the entire process each time temptation or sin appears.
To Control and to Diligently Pursue
Now let us consider the fifth and final step, to control and to diligently pursue. To control and diligently pursue each action taken is fundamental in assuring that what we are doing is being done properly. It is also necessary to control each decision and identify any deviations from our original decision, to determine if the selected course of action is being followed and will thereby obtain the desired results. It requires constant attention and a continuous process of learning, which feeds back to the original decisions, and in that manner each decision becomes easier to make and more automatic.
I am sure that most of you have had experience driving a car with a manual transmission. If you will think back to the first time you tried to drive such a car, you will remember how hard it was to coordinate the use of the accelerator, the clutch, and the gearshift lever. It required a lot of concentration and control. Nevertheless, with a little practice and repetition, it became an automatic process that could be done without even thinking about it.
In the same way, by exercising control of and concentration on decisions, they, too, will become automatic and sure. We should constantly strive to insure that the goal of our decision is achieved.
Little is accomplished without a struggle. This is especially true for the so-called “gifted,” for it was Edison who said that in all of the accomplishments of mankind, 5 percent come from inspiration and 95 percent from perspiration. That means that the more talented and gifted a person is, the more he must work and struggle to accomplish all that he has the potential to do and develop within himself—even more than those who are less gifted. Without a struggle there can be no accomplishment.
I have witnessed complete failures among some of our young people with brilliant minds, superior ideas, and exceptional ability. This failure was the result of little, or practically no, willpower to carry through and accomplish the results. These young people remind me of the partridge, a bird that exists in great abundance in Argentina. When they begin their flights, it appears that they are going to rise to great heights, but, after going a short distance, they flutter to the ground.
Therefore, upon accomplishing each task we should be able to enjoy a peace within ourselves, a peace that comes with knowing that all possible had been done, that all talents have been exercised to the maximum, and in the same manner that Paul expressed to Timothy,
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. [2 Timothy 4:7]
And now that we have reviewed the steps to a creative mind, I would like to add a few elements that must also be present to complete and give harmony to the picture. In order to hasten the proper solution of an accomplishment, each of the steps should be completed promptly, without delay. In other words, apply the well-known saying, “Never put off until tomorrow that which you can do today.” If something must be done, do it.
When we talk about doing something as a result of a firm decision to act, it brings to mind the words of Joshua when, with firmness, he placed before the people that dramatic alternative of deciding which way they would follow, saying that they should do it without delay.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve. . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. [Joshua 24:15]
It is interesting to note that Joshua demonstrated to the people through example what his decision was, and he made that decision at once. Once the decision is made, do it.
Faith, Courage, and Humility
In connection with taking decisive action, there are three more elements which form a fundamental part of the creative process that concerns us. They are, faith, courage, and humility.
Without undaunted faith, all of our efforts would be useless. We remember that the Lord admonished Oliver Cowdery through Joseph Smith thus: “Remember that without faith you can do nothing” (D&C 8:10).
The Prophet Joseph Smith himself defined faith in the following manner:
Faith is . . . the moving cause of all action in . . . intelligent beings. And as faith is the moving cause of all action in temporal concerns, so it is in spiritual. . . . But faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth. [13, “Lecture First,” Lectures on Faith, Doctrine and Covenants, 1891, p. 3]
We need courage to push forward, even against the pessimists and defeatists, to achieve or attain that which our faith has caused us to envision and to emblazon on our souls. What else besides courage did the Lord ask Joshua when he was called to initiate the task of preparing Israel to enter the land of Canaan?
Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. [Joshua 1:9]
And why humility? Love of self in acceptable amounts is a tool of progress. But when it surpasses that amount in the smallest degree, it has a negative effect. When anyone supposes that all he thinks or does is totally his own, that is when he lacks humility. For example, in the field of art, generally the things which are done today can be done because the basics have been learned from others. There is a subconscious repeating and transforming, even though there is no chance that they could have copied. Musicians can testify to the same thing.
Even Sir Isaac Newton confessed that he was indebted to past generations when he said that he had risen to height by “standing upon ye shoulders of Giants.” (Letter to Robert Hooke, 5 February 1675/6).
From these examples it can be inferred that lack of humility is generally caused from an excess of self-esteem. It is not only unjustified, but it is damaging as it does not allow one to objectively analyze true values. There cannot be reasoning. Reasoning becomes obscured and sometimes goes to a point that it is not recognizable as a fundamental part, and one may forget that the powers of heaven are essential in the process of achievement.
And to demonstrate that what I am saying is not anything new on this particular subject, I will read that which Alma said to his son Shiblon 73 years before Christ:
And I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all things.
See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength.
Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness. [Alma 38:10–12]
If we were to amplify the definition of humility as an accurate determination of one’s own value, then we can consider low self-esteem just as dangerous as overly high self-esteem.
I can assure you, for example, that one of the factors which makes progress most difficult among young people is their tendency to consider themselves unequal to the task or incapable of handling the problems and challenges that they must face. This is particularly true oftentimes with missionaries. In cases such as these I remind them of the parable of the talents, placing special emphasis on the words of the Savior, “To every man according to his . . . ability” (Matthew 25:15).
I believe the time has come to summarize all that we have considered thus far so that a conclusion can be reached. In other words, we want to impress upon our minds the process that will help us achieve, or, to say it in the words we used in the beginning, to help us develop a creative mind.
Let us see if the summary can be effective while utilizing the words of Joseph Smith found in his beautiful story wherein he was led to the transcendent experience of this last dispensation.
You will remember that Joseph Smith began by telling where he was born, naming the members of his family, and then portraying the situation of the religious world in which he lived as a 14-year-old boy. He tells of the contentions, the divisions, and the terrible confusion that existed at that time.
Then, as he expressed it in his own words:
During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; . . .
My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. [Joseph Smith—History 1:8, 9]
How many other persons were experiencing this same feeling? How many had “eyes to see, but did not see”? How many had actually observed? How many actually saw the conditions the way Joseph Smith saw them? This situation certainly describes the first step in the process.
Further in the story we read,
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it? And how shall I know it?
While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in setting the question by an appeal to the Bible. [Joseph Smith—History 1:10-12]
Don’t these words seem to be a beautiful example of reasoning, of deep pondering and meditation, considering all the facts that his observation, anxiety, and fervent desire to know and to experience brought to his mind? Then, of course, he found himself at the door of a glorious experience which the Lord had in store for him, but nevertheless he was carefully and perfectly doing his part.
Joseph Smith then told us how he proceeded to simplify and organize his ideas, the conclusions of which had led him to his reasoning and meditation—he studied the alternatives before making any decision. Obviously, without alternatives there can be no decision.
At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.
Doesn’t that seem to be a beautiful simplification and a perfect organization of ideas for a 14-year-old youth?
To continue, Joseph said,
I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally and not upbraid, I might venture.[Joseph Smith—History 1:13]
The decision was made—again, correct decisions, based on correct principles.
And then what next did young Joseph do after making his decision? Well, he took the step that gave form to all the preceding process—he acted on it and did it promptly.
We read his narration:
So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. [Joseph Smith—History 1:14]
Here we have Joseph Smith taking action, or, in other words, praying in order to gain wisdom. But the process did not stop there.
Do you remember that we said we should strive diligently to achieve the goals we had decided to pursue? We see that the same thing happened to Joseph Smith the instant he began to pray.
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me. . . .
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy, . . . just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head.[Joseph Smith—History 1:15–16]
What a vivid example of struggle and effort to reach a desired goal! And the promise in the epistle of James was fulfilled by the words of our Father in Heaven: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him” (Joseph Smith—History 1:17).
The other elements we spoke of—faith, courage, and humility—are reflected in all of the incidents of his story. There is no doubt that faith was evident in each of young Joseph’s words, but as a final example, let’s read those which to me appear to reflect the perfect example of courage, humility, and above all, peace.
I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.
I had now got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned. [Joseph Smith—History 1:25–26]
I pray that the time we have spent together this evening shall be of some benefit in improving our lives, in improving our reasoning, and in developing better thoughts, and above all, in becoming better Saints. As Paul said:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. [Philippians 4:8]
May the Lord bless us to this end, I say, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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Angel Abrea was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this fireside address was given at Brigham Young University on 7 March 1982.