The seminary teacher was coming up on a Book of Mormon lesson that included one of her favorite scriptures, Mosiah 18:21: "And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another."
It happened that the teacher had long ago learned the technique of cutting construction paper so that two long strips with rounded ends, sliced lengthwise twice in the middle, could be woven together to make a heart that opened like a small basket.
Using red and green paper, the weaving would be very obvious in the finished heart. But when you look at the two pieces, it is not at all obvious how they can possibly be interwoven — especially because if they are not folded in half, it can't be done at all!
In times past she had demonstrated the weaving together of the two parts to make a finished heart basket, and had always been greeted by oohs and ahs.
But this time, she had the idea of telling them nothing about how it was done. Instead, she would show a finished heart, and then give each of them two pieces and let them try to figure out how to weave them together.
The morning dawned — 6 a.m., a time of day that already tends to knit their hearts together if only as joint sufferers in the agony of such early rising.
The teacher talked to them about the scripture, about how it is the responsibility of every member to do all they can to knit together the hearts of members of the ward, of their family, of their quorum or YW group, or their friends at school or at work.
Then she passed out the heart-pieces and showed them the finished heart, demonstrating how it opened.
At first they assumed it was easy. The finished heart doesn't look at all complicated.
But within moments, they were asking questions of her. "Do you do it folded or unfolded?"
She smiled benignly.
"Is there some trick to it?"
"Yes," she said. "If you do it right, it works. If you don't, it doesn't."
They laughed at her only-a-little-sarcastic answer. The teacher saw with satisfaction that one part of her plan, at least, was working perfectly. She knew that visual aids like the heart, and the demonstration of how to make it, worked very well with girls. Such things are the heart of teaching in Young Women and Relief Society alike.
But boys grow up with a very different tradition. Visual aids tend to awaken their skepticism and kindle the flames of their rapier-like (and potentially lesson-destroying) wit.
By giving the heart-pieces to them as a problem to be solved, however, she had succeeded in engaging their rapt attention.
Quickly they began to talk to each other, tell each other what wasn't working. Some, though, hid their work from the others, determined to win — and win alone.
One girl held up what looked like a finished heart. "There!" the girl cried.
The other kids groaned — how had she done it so fast?
But alas, the heart she had woven could not open. She had done something that looked right, but didn't actually work. "Good try," said the teacher, "but it can't open and hold things. It's not the heart we need!"
So it was back to work, but now the most competitive of them worked with even greater haste, if only because, having faced (as they thought) defeat, they didn't like how it felt.
At last a boy held up a finished heart. He had found the right way to weave and nest the pieces, knitting them together in such a way as to create an openable heart.
Everyone else learned from him how it was done, and soon they all had woven working hearts.
"What did you learn from this experience?" asked the teacher.
"It's frustrating!" said one. "Things don't always go as you plan, you might have to start over again. And not everyone will cooperate."
"It wasn't easy," said another. "It's hard work. It looks easy when you see it all put together and working, but getting there isn't easy at all."
"We needed a pattern," said one. "Once we saw from somebody else how to do it, it was simple. It made perfect sense."
Others volunteered that in real life, scriptures were a good pattern. So were parents and leaders and righteous friends who demonstrated the knitting together of hearts — and other essential skills in living the gospel.
One girl said that at the beginning, she was kind of cocky. "I just assumed I could do it easily because I'm good at figuring things out. I wouldn't need anybody's help! But in the end I had to be humble and learn from the ones who were getting it right. That's how it is in real life — you've got to be humble enough to accept help from others before your hearts can be knit together."
What the teacher loved was that she did not have to prompt them to reach any of these conclusions. This was a group skilled at learning wise conclusions from their own experiences.
Making a heart-shaped paper basket is, in the end, a trivial skill.
But learning how to draw gospel lessons from such an exercise, to change their thoughts and actions because of lessons they found for themselves — that was a skill that could bless their lives many times over in the years to come.
Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret News. A longer version of this column can be found at MormonTimes.com. Leave feedback for Card at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.