It Might Have Been Written Yesterday

An old friend recently pointed me to “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King many years ago that–as he noted–could have been written yesterday.

Evidently, there are aspects of the human condition that change slowly, if at all.

King’s opening thesis is that we need to synthesize our opposing characteristics:

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites…..  And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

King described that “tough mind” as one characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment, one having the ability to sift the true from the false.

Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of man’s greatest needs? Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

Soft-mindedness, on the other hand, can be seen in the effectiveness of manipulative advertising, responsiveness to slogans, and unquestioning acceptance of facts provided by the media.

Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.

And this was written before the advent of the internet and the explosion of propaganda outlets that the web has fostered.

After watching much of the just-concluded GOP convention in Cleveland, these two passages particularly struck me:

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea. An elderly segregationist in the South is reported to have said, “I have come to see now that desegregation is inevitable. But I pray God that it will not take place until after I die.” The soft-minded person always wants to freeze the moment and hold life in the gripping yoke of sameness….

There may be a conflict between soft-minded religionists and tough-minded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge that is power; religion gives man wisdom that is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.

When King turned his attention to hard and soft-heartedness, his reflections were equally pertinent to today. He was especially critical of hardhearted people who lack genuine compassion and engage in a “crass utilitarianism that values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him.”

At the end of his sermon, King calls on us to avoid both the complacency and do-nothingness of the soft-minded and the violence and bitterness of the hardhearted.

The sermon was written in 1959. It is as if he foresaw 2016.


  1. Just gorgeous!! Oh how I wish that the man that preached this from his pulpit in 1959 was here today to preach these same words into a television camera or in a podcast, or whatever other means, so that it would reach us all and give us the course correction that we all need to have so desperately.

    Many, many thanks for this Sheila! I just wish people knew more of this man’s masterful abilities as a theologian that backed up everything he did and said as he helped lead the struggle for human rights in this country so many years ago. Maybe your post will help with that as well.

  2. In my mind and heart, Martin Luther King’s description, “We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” describes President Obama as coming close to meeting this criteria when he was elected in 2008. His hopes, aims and goals for this country and attempts at reaching them were the “serpent”; his compromises to the Republican party were the “dove” aspect carried too far. It is all explained in his book, “The Audacity of Hope”; believing in his heart that Democrats and Republicans could once again sit at the bargaining table and find solutions to the problems this country continues to face. I still had that “audacity of hope” till last week, from Monday through Thursday, when the Republican National Convention dashed all hope for even the survival of the United States, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the Amendments as written by our founding fathers. The GOP has given all their power to the Tea Party, the NRA and has put Donald Trump and his minions as today’s “founding fathers”and put them in control. What are President Obama’s hopes for this country today?

    I have little contact with anyone other than a few family members and friends due to deafness and disabilities limiting and isolating me from the public. The Internet is my primary source of communication; I can easily delete, after reading, anything from the GOP and and nothing but begging for more and more money from the Democratic party and supporters. My son showed me one lengthy comment in response to his post supporting Hillary from someone he believed to be a friend of many years . The ugliness and the disparaging personal remarks against him were accompanies by pictures of Trump and the near nude pictures of Melania. He received more, uglier such posts which he deleted. Only Republican supporters respond to Democratic supporters with such diatribes; we seem to be in control of our faculties while they appear – like The Donald – to have lost all control of rational thought and humane contact with others. What would Martin Luther King’s hopes for this country be today?

  3. JoAnn Green, you are asking some hard questions — questions to hard to answer on the internet. Thank you.

  4. Steve,

    “JoAnn Green, you are asking some hard questions—questions to hard to answer on the internet?

    I’m not trying to be argumentative, but why can’t JoAnn’s questions be answered on the internet?

  5. For those of you who are avid readers, I refer you to the three volume set by Taylor Branch, The King Years. Branch says that they are about the Civil rights movement, but the civil rights movement was so much about King, that I doubt that the books would be greatly different if Branch had intended to write specifically about King. They make a long read, but are well worth the required time and effort. Happy reading!

  6. Thanks for sharing these profound words of Dr. Martin Luther King Sheila. I was a young child when he died so I have only heard his “I have a Dream” speech. I truly believe that if he were alive today the harsh tea party Republicans would attack him without end. They embody everything that he spoke out against.

    JoAnn, your comment “Only Republican supporters respond to Democratic supporters with such diatribes; we seem to be in control of our faculties while they appear – like The Donald – to have lost all control of rational thought and humane contact with others ” is spot on. There is so much hatred within the Republican party that they seem completely incapable of rational thought and definitely incapable of compassion for others.

  7. I can’t say anything that contributes to what Dr. King said, so everyone have a nice day.

  8. And in the 7-25-16 Indy Star:
    “Fishers residents receive pro-KKK message on front lawns”
    These people are listening to Donald Trunp and feel excited by his message.
    This is one old traditional Hoosier value that needs to go away — soon

  9. Martin Luther King was an inspiration to many of us. And for me he still is. But his days, as JoAnn has so eloquently stated, are gone. We need to come up with hard answers for today.

    We’re in a whole new ballgame that can’t be won on the streets or even in Congress like in the 60’s.

  10. Trumpence’s tough heart and soft mind come into focus.

    That observation is merely part of their disqualifications for the job.

  11. Beautiful Sheila. I want to get the entire sermon. His words and his life were prophetic. Thank you!

  12. We are all inextricably immersed in culture. It is a part of who we are, a big part.

    MLK understood that the culture of his day, the national mindset of his times, was the problem. Segregation was just how things were for his people. The problem was intractable and overwhelming to everyone but him.

    He only had words for weapons but his skill at using metaphors that opened minds and hearts was unparalleled.

    I will add “We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart” to the collection of his metaphors in my mental library.

    I can’t think of a better vision for what we need to move the country forward today out of the morass of the culture that media entertainment has swamped us with.

    The heart of the dove with the mind of the serpent.

    We were fortunate to have found one such man nearly eight years ago but his work needs to be carried on beyond his time in office by the next of his kind.

  13. JoAnn, you have outdone yourself! You are the reigning queen of revisionist history if you think that our current President was ever at all interested in working with Republicans. He in essence said to McCain, “I won so shut up!” He passed the worst possible health care bill without anyone reading it, responsible for 8 million LESS people insured with non-governmental programs. As for diatribes of in civility, you routinely spew bile at me. I come to this forum looking to explore differing viewpoints and you continually describe tea party participants I have never met. The main difference is , I do not assume that your hatred and contempt is representative of any group, whereas you paint all republicans with the same brush.

  14. Ken, just curious, why do you define yourself in such a primary way as a Republican?

    I am a registered R too but that doesn’t define me other than in an insignificant way.

    I’ll bet there are 100s of things that say more about who you are than what political party you are registered with.

  15. I am defensive of anyone who chooses to generalize the characteristics of an entire group based on the behavior of a few as you apparently are when you defend more liberal groups.

  16. Thank you Mrs. Kennedy for sharing Reverend King’s beautiful message. I realized after watching the movie Selma that my history classes I took in grade school never really went over Civil Rights and Martin Luther King Jr.. My history courses seemed to stop around FDR…never went into the 50’s either. I did read a biography written on him which was truly inspiring.

    “Science investigates and religion interprets…” I think it is the interpretation that causes the problems. It brought me to one of the many times I went to see a therapist…in college my first therapist was amazing and during our second session he asked me if my parents were religious and if I went to church. My father was Roman Catholic and my mother was the daughter of a minister, German Evangalical Reform that merged and became United Church of Christ. He told me something that I found so profound…so much of religious teachings have been twisted and warped. You see in my family we were taught you could not look in the mirror and say that that you looked pretty as that was vanity and vanity was bad. You could not be proud of that A or making some accomplishment…well you could not be proud alot as that was being boastful and being boastful was bad…so essentially you needed to not like yourself which equated to being humble. He looked at me and said “does God really want you to hate yourself and not be happy with good works”. Its humans who make the interpretations and that is where the problem may lie

  17. “When King turned his attention to hard and soft-heartedness, his reflections were equally pertinent to today. He was especially critical of hardhearted people who lack genuine compassion and engage in a “crass utilitarianism that values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him.”

    Nov. 9, 2015, The Nation, Comment “The GOP Crack-Up: The latest chatter among Washington Insiders isn’t about whether the Republican Party will win in 2016, but whether it will survive. The fear that Donald Trump might actually become the party’s nominee is the ultimate GOP nightmare. Some gleeful Democrats are rooting (sotto voce) for the Donald, though many expect that he will self-destruct.”

    July 18/25, 2016, The Nation, by Sasha Abramsky, “Tying TRUMP DOWN: When certainties crumble, it’s often on the streets that the most coherent narratives emerge. One crumbling certainty is that Americans don’t elect facists. That’s a 1930s European thing, we have long thought. This certainty seems to have prevented Trump’s GOP rivals from calling him out with the “F-word” while they still had a chance to block his rise, even as he asked supporters to swear a personal loyalty oath to him at rallies, retweeted Mussolini quotes, curried favor with the white-nationalist groups, showed profound contempt for the separation of powers that defines the American democratic process, and repeatedly injected the language of violence into his speeches.”

    Over the past approximately nine months, the gestation period of a pregnancy, we have given birth to a monster. The labor has been excruciating. What once passed as “Jim Crow laws” regarding the Black community in the south (which Martin Luther King gave his life fighting against) has become “Donald Trump laws”, encompassing entire groups of American people and religions in addition to Blacks.

    “crass utilitarianism that values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him.” This was the foundation of Trump’s campaign and has been accepted as the campaign foundation for the entire GOP. Martin Luther King’s comments were prophetic but have obviously long been forgotten by both the Democratic and Republican parties or we would not be in this precarious, frightening position today. What are the chances of the Democratic National Convention pulling us out of this bottomless pit when Hillary Clinton has taken on Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as her campaign chairman after DWS’s disloyalty to the Democratic party as a whole, which was her job as Chairman of the DNC? Mainly according to her (DWS) usefulness to her (HRC).

  18. I understand your point applied to like gender or race or, to a slightly less degree, religion. Nobody chooses to belong so the membership is random and you’d expect to find the same mix as the general population.

    Political party membership or support should be by those who agree with the values and philosophy of the party. Thus it’s possible for all of them to be wrong, or right, in exactly the same way.

    My membership in the party is based on what they espoused and who I was in 1960. I don’t think that I have changed politically over that time but they sure have. My only reason for staying is the hope that now is a temporary aberration and they’ll return to who they were.

    I certainly can’t defend the current GOP. Their record of failure alone makes that true. I don’t owe them a thing.

    My hope has been for a rebirth based on that string of failures. What I see though is a doubling down on the cause of their failure.

    More and more I’m coming to grips with the infinitesimal odds of their resurrection based on that doubling down.

  19. JoAnn, you apparently have not read the one handful of emails from the 20K stolen from the DNC that have been identified as pro Hillary. DWS did not write them or is in any way implicated by them. In fact as far as I can tell nobody is. The one point in one of them that was an error on the part of an overzealous jr staffer refers to religion when in fact for both moral and practical reasons religion is not a campaign issue.

    Hillary made DWS an “honorary ” campaign manager because she did nothing wrong as DNC chair, Hillary is a loyal friend, and DWS is an effective campaigner.

    I see disappointing aspects of this campaign looking very hard for Hillary flaws while ignoring the 800 lb gorilla that’s Trumpence.

    I don’t understand it.

  20. RN, when I was growing up parental culture advised “children should be seen and not heard”.

    As you can see I resisted that advice.

  21. CNN just reported that the FBI is investigating the distinct possibility that Putin was behind the theft and spin of the stolen DNC emails.

  22. I kept reading they believed the Russians and Putin may have been involved…which it would be in Putin’s interest to cause chaos within the Democratic Party since Trump has apparently expressed admiration for Putin and vice versa.

    A legitimate question for this group and I would be interested in books on the topic.. has Facism in the 20th century come from extreme conservative movements?

  23. I think if we polled the world leaders Putin and Kim Jong Un would be for Trump. Maybe a few mullahs. The rest solidly Clinton/Kaine.

  24. Pete; I’m sorry you were only interested in the DWS comments I made when comparing the past 9 months beginning with the belief there was no chance Trump (that 800 pound gorilla) had a chance to stay in the race and his 76 minute acceptance speech at the Convention. So far today there are 28 comments on this blog; 9 of them from you. Yesterday I took the time to count your comments when the total was 71, 19 were yours. By the end of the day there was a total of 94 comments but I didn’t continue reading or counting, how many more were your’s? Do you ever consider you may be overdoing it?

  25. From

    “On NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday, Sanders firmly declared, “no, no, no,” the emails do not give him “any pause” in his support for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Ever since it became clear that he would not win the Democratic nomination, Sanders has been fighting hard to restore party unity.”

    “Trump has been trying to smear Sanders’ push to unite all Democrats under one flag as evidence that Sanders is “a weak and somewhat pathetic figure.” The truth is that Sanders is brave enough to engage with other factions in the Democratic party to compromise and form a political coalition. Unlike Trump, he realizes that compromise is valuable, and that politics involves more than constantly insisting that you’re right and everyone else is wrong.”

  26. You don’t think that the purpose of this blog is conversation?

    Personally I’m frustrated by the lack of it.

  27. JoAnn, if Pete’s comments are not of interest to you, just ignore them the way you do mine.

  28. Ken; I do often scroll past Pete’s comments. I do not ignore your’s; they just aren’t worth responding to.

  29. JoAnn, evidently you finally took your mother’s advice about only saying something if you have something nice to say. I read and reread King’s words from this post. Indeed they could have been written today, but King would have been shaking his finger at both parties, not just republicans.

  30. Dinah Washington had a beautiful song called “What a Difference a Day Makes”. Borrowing from those simple words, I would add “What a Difference a WEEK Makes”. There’s absolutely no comparison between the two conventions! Love truly does trump hate! Yes, it does!

  31. Republicans have always had a hardened heart. Much to your chagrin,you supported the Republican Party for decades–even during the time MLK was marching against the establishment. This is a devilish ploy on your part. Using the words/writings of King to further a pro-Clinton agenda.

    If King were alive today,he would be pointing fingers at the current Democrat establishment and your favored candidate. Actually,also to your chagrin,he would be in alignment with The Black Agenda Report.

    An excerpt:

    In the 1990s the Clinton Power Couple destroyed welfare as we knew it and threw millions of poor people to the wolves, while imprisoning more Blacks than any previous administration in history. In Haiti, the Clintons rigged elections and preached that poverty is a competitive advantage. So, how in Hell did these two world class racists get a reputation as friends of Black people?

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