IReflections on Martin Luther King’s Message 

“ A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart” 

by Marcia Flagg & Fred Smoot

In this message given by Martin Luther King, Jr. we are challenged to be both wise and gentle with our fellow human beings or as Dr. King names it—To Be Tough Minded and Tender Hearted. 


On A Tough Mind                                                By Marcia Flagg

Dr. King calls us to use our critical thinking skills; to sharpen up our mental capabilities.   Is it not true very few of us think about how we think?  What is our thinking method?  Slow thinking…Fast thinking?  Inquisitive thinking? 

 In fact, Martin says quite boldly…Nothing pains some people more than having to think.  He says, we need tough minds, incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement. 

 Without these thinking skills, we get gullibility. How many examples of simplistic gullibility come to our minds today?   As I write this on Jan. 5th….I am aware that tomorrow…many Americans will be out protesting that our election was a fraud because Donald Trump told them so.

 Dr. King reminds us to be wary of political leaders.  They know, even study, how to manipulate our thinking. prejudices, and fears.  We should always be questioning and looking for truth.

He says we don’t need to look far to detect the dangers of softmindedness.  Dictators, capitalizing on softmindedness have led men to barbarity and terror that are literally unthinkable in a civilized society.  

We only need to look to Adolf Hitler who realized softmindedness was so prevalent among his followers that he said, “ I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.”    In Mein Kamp Hitler wrote,” By means of shrewd lies, unremittingly repeated, it is possible to make people believe Heaven is Hell and Hell..Heaven. The greater the lie the more readily it is believed.”

Does any of this sound familiar today?   It has become so easy to create a base of people willing to believe lies. As one Congresswoman described it this week, the messages of Donald Trump reminded her of her experience of Jim Jones, the charismatic cult leader of yesteryear who implored his followers to take deadly kool aid.  They followed him blindly.


 There is a well- known phrase. It is “God gave you a brain, so use it.” Investigate for the truth.  Question your sources of information.  Beware of the possibility of false propaganda.  Don’t blindly fall or follow.  Truly,free people have free minds.

Dr. King says, “There is little hope for us until we become toughminded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half- truths, and downright ignorance.  The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of softmindedness.  A nation or civilization that continues to produce softminded people purchase its own spiritual death on an installment plan.”

 On A Tender Heart                                                            Fred L. Smoot

The text that Dr. King referred to were Jesus words, Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. With these words, Jesus teaches us to hold together not only a Tough Mind but a Tender Heart. 

Here is our challenge. The incisive, analytic, curious mind can grow hard and cold apart from a human and merciful heart.

 We see this in the parable story of the father who waited for his wayward rebellious son to return home.  Despite all logic, against all fairness and the legal structures of his day, the Father lovingly waited for this son to return to his senses and come home.  In the meantime, the Father in his heart held his mind to a larger love.   For love Is meeting persons at the point of their need with mercy and justice poured out beyond our understanding. 

Poet Alice Carey (in 1821) wrote this verse that rings true for us today.

         True worth is in being, not in seeming.

         In doing each day that goes, be some little good,

         Not in dreaming of great things to do by and by.

         For whatever men say in their blindness, despite the fancies of       youth.

         There is nothing so kingly as kindness,

         Nothing so royal as truth.


With this verse we can begin to see and grasp the rudiments of a tender heart.  It is kingly kindness.  

Tenderheartedness implores us to be as gentle as doves. This is despite the realities in which our fellow human beings make mistakes and hurt others.  But if we listen, we can hear the sweet cooing of the doves. It is a heart that has the courage to hear those coos and find mercy. 


        Pray do not find fault with the man who limps or stumbles along the road

        Unless you have worn the shoes, he wears or struggled beneath his load.

        There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt, though hidden away from view

        Or the burden he bears, when placed on your back might cause you to stumble too.

        Do not sneer at the man who is down today unless you have felt    the blow 

        That caused his fall or felt the shame, that only the fallen know….

        Do not be too harsh with the man who sins or pelt him with word or stone

        Unless you are sure, yea—doubly sure you have no sins of your own….

A tender and whole heart produces luxuriant grace. 

 Lastly, a whole and tender heart knows the uselessness of violence when used to bring about change.   The whole heart speaks truth to power, loves persons and yet moves against evil, oppression and false narratives. It can clearly see the present broken unfinished moment and be active in restoring it to a more perfect future.  We may live in mean times.  But what we do in the “mean time” matters.  

Whole-hearted humans know we must cross over this Selma bridge. We dare not do otherwise. We carry the lost and found lambs with us into the future---where we make all the earth our house, --our home. 

We cross that Selma Bridge accompanied by the One who can most help us span the tension between being tough-minded and tender-hearted. 

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