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.