6 And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word.
7 Therefore he did say no more to the other multitude; but he stretched forth his hand, and cried unto those whom he beheld, who were truly penitent…
There is no substitute for observing the people around you and adapting to their needs. Alma led a mission to the Zoramites, hoping that the word of God would motivate them to be righteous. (See Alma 31:1-5.) But when he first arrived among them, he was appalled at the arrogance and greed of the wealthy class. (See Alma 31:24-28.) After praying with his companions, he got to work teaching the people, apparently with little success, until he was approached by a poor group of people who were ready to be taught.
The leader of this group approached Alma with a question:
Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do? (Alma 32:5)
As Mormon tells us in the passage above, Alma wasted no time in turning his attention to these humble and teachable people. “He did say no more to the other multitude,” but turned toward this receptive group and began to teach them immediately.
As Clayton Christensen pointed out, “People learn when they’re ready to learn, not when we’re ready to teach them” (The Power of Everyday Missionaries (2012), 30). It is therefore important for a teacher (and we’re all teachers) to be adaptable. As Joseph Smith taught, it’s also important to customize our methods to the needs of our students:
If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, “Chapter 29: Living with Others in Peace and Harmony“).
Today, I will strive to be adaptable. Just as Alma adapted to the needs of the Zoramites, I will pay attention to the people around me and will be prepared to teach them when they are prepared and in the way that will most help them to learn. When my children or other people are ready to learn, like Alma, I will set aside what I’m doing and turn toward them to give them the help they need.