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Martin Luther King, Jr.: Therapist for us all


Martin Luther King Jr. provides brilliant therapeutic insight and leadership in his sermon “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart” – Here are some experts from it, from the book Strength to Love:

“…life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.

We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement.  The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false. The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning. He has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.

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 to have to think.

This prevalent tendency toward soft mindedness is found in man’s unbelievable gullabilty.

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo and has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea. The soft-minded person always wants to free the moment and hold life in the gripping yoke of sameness.

Soft mindedness is one of the most basic causes of race prejudice. The tough-minded person always examines the facts before he reaches conclusions. The tender-minded person reaches a conclusion before he has examined the first fact.

There is little hope for us until we become tough minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths & downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of soft mindedness.  A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.


But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind.  The gospel also demands a tender heart. Tough mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer. What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of tough mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?

The hardhearted person never truly loves. He engages in a crass utilitarianism that values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him. He never experiences the beauty of friendship, because he is too cold to feel affection for another and is too self-centered to share another’s joy and sorrow. He is an isolated island. No outpouring of love links him with the mainland of humanity.

The hardhearted person lacks the capacity for genuine compassion.  He is unmoved by the pains and afflictions of his brothers. He passes unfortunate men every day, but he never really sees them.  He gives dollars to a worthwhile charity, but he gives not of his spirit.

Jesus reminds us that the good life combines the toughness of the serpent and the tenderness of the dove.  To have serpent-like qualities devoid of dove-like qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish.  To have dove-like without serpent-like qualities is to be sentimental, anemic and aimless.  We must combine strongly marked antithesis.”



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Karen Steinberg