Courage – and Maybe Fear – Lead to Successful Marriages

Published July 13, 1989. My summer semester class at BYU is almost one-third over. It is Family Science 301, “Preparation for Marriage.” I have about 30 students in the class, many of whom expect to marry in just a few weeks when the summer term ends.

I told my students the other day that there never has been a better time for marriage for young men and women. We have reviewed all the dismal statistics about what is happening to many marriages in the United States. But my students seem undaunted. They cautiously but eagerly await marriage.

It takes a great deal of courage to marry now. Some students come from homes where their parents’ marriage was not the best. In addition, many have what I call “guarded skepticism” about getting married. They are acutely aware of the junglelike atmosphere in which many marriages are struggling. BYU students today do not naively sing and dance down the proverbial yellow brick road on the way to matrimony. Most are wise in regard to current marriage trends and values. And still, they all look forward to marriage.

Some admit they feel strong social pressure from a variety of sources to marry. Even though they individually make the final decision of when, where, and whom to marry, they feel pressure to take the plunge. And once they do, it is absolutely amazing to me how many of them do succeed in marriage when there are so many opportunities, if you will, to fail.

I am not certain, however, whether young people today are motivated by courage to succeed in marriage or fear of failure. Perhaps both. There is a difference between the two.

Dr. Charles Garfield, author of “Peak Performance,” tells a humorous story about differentiating between courage and fear. 

A very wealthy man, he notes, bought a huge ranch in Arizona and invited some of his close associates to come see it. After touring some of the 1,500 acres of mountains, rivers, and grasslands, he took everyone back to the house, which was as spectacular as the scenery. Behind the exquisite home was the largest swimming pool in all of Arizona. There was just one thing about it, however, that was unusual. The gigantic swimming pool was filled with alligators.

The rich owner explained that he valued courage more than any other character trait. Courage, he claimed, was what made him a billionaire. “In fact, courage is such a powerful virtue that if anyone is courageous enough to jump into that pool, swim through those alligators, and make it to the other side, I’ll give them anything they want. Anything – my house, my land, my money.”

Of course, everyone laughed at the absurd challenge and proceeded to follow the owner into the house for lunch. Suddenly they heard a splash. Turning around they saw a young man swimming for his life across the pool. He was thrashing at the water as the alligators swarmed after him.

After death-defying seconds, the young man made it, unharmed, to the other side. The rich host and his guests applauded his efforts. And the billionaire stuck to his promise. He said to the dripping wet fellow, “You are indeed a man of courage, and I will stick to my word. What do you want? You can have anything—my house, my land, my money—just tell me what you want, and it is yours.”

The young swimmer breathed heavily for a few moments, looked up at the host and said, “I want to know just one thing. Who the hell pushed me into that pool?”

To my 30 young students at BYU awaiting marriage, I applaud your courage and understand your fear as you wait on the edge of the pool to jump . . . or to be nudged . . . into matrimony.

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