A Tough Mind, A Tender Heart

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Today, given the similar circumstances we find in society today almost 60 years after his passing, we honor the legacy and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Before his assassination in 1968, King penned many influential books and speeches and became known worldwide for his impact on the civil rights and social justice movements. Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, when you search for MLK Jr on Google, that is about all you see – writings and discussions on his impact on social justice – how he “took the high road” as influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, how he fought for equality, his unquestionable contributions to the civil rights movement. But what inspired him to walk this path – what was King’s source of inspiration? We must begin with understanding that King was influenced by the divine in his pursuit of a higher truth, a higher good. We do both King and ourselves a disservice by attempting to secularize his ideas, void of the inherent divinity. Perhaps the best and only fitting secular representation of King’s philosophy can be illustrated by Aristotle’s idea of eudaimonia – the highest human good attained in pursuit of their true purpose. The intersection of the highest moral thought and behavior. Though, even Aristotle himself believed in the divine, and a true purpose would inexorably be drawn from the divine itself; from God.


In King’s “Strength to Love”, he explores a challenging dilemma. But wait, isn’t loving easy? Isn’t love natural to us all? What strength does one need to love? To love is easy – a warm feeling to a partner, a parent, a good friend – even a song or your favorite book. It is when you are being called to love thy enemy that it becomes difficult, and that is exactly the type of love he is describing. A feat that requires persistent development and adherence to two things: a tough mind, and a tender heart. So, what makes a tough mind? How do we tender our hearts?

Foremost, tough mindedness means to be analytical in the search of truth. What a task in the information age of today. From common man to heads of state, we see that many engage openly in deceit – in literal inversions of what we can see with our own eyes. The tough mind seeks out new information, recognizing that to favor information that would confirm rather than challenge what you believe is a natural human tendency. It does not fear the discomfort one has when reflecting on their conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors when faced with new information. Instead, it welcomes every instance as an opportunity to further develop oneself. This is shown in John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” We will fail to have right judgment if we do not hone our mind to be tough. We will fail if we live life by word of mouth over His word. And we will certainly fail if we see with our own eyes yet accept the words of a false prophet. This biblical quality to recognize truth is referred to as “discernment,” and may very well be one of the most powerful. Yet as necessary as the tough mind is, it too will flounder if not paired with a tender heart.


“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17

  “Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” (popularly attributed to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War) Utilizing just a tough mind, the almost inescapable result is to become a hardened person altogether, a forsaken soul that feeds on darkness and cynicism. And the food for that soul, oh, so ripe in today’s age. That is why King  challenges us to pair our tough and discerning mind with a heart that is agape; a heart that is tender. A tender heart is not one that is pushed over or manipulated. It elevates truth, but flows with grace and humility to those who walk another path. A tender heart has the power to shake the hands of those who wronged you – that is, if they extend their hand back. But we must be willing to offer it first. In doing this, we may bring them onto the path. King reminds us: “We are potential sons of God. Through love that potentiality becomes actuality.” (Strength To Love, p.55) 

It is only through molding of mind to become tough – and softening of heart to become tender – that we may realize our true potential for good in this world. May we hone our discernment to recognize truth in a world of both open and subtle deception and become steadfast in our deliverance of compassionate accountability and agape love. King now belongs to the ages, but his passion for persistent ethical striving, of grace and of discerning strength, belongs to us forever… so long as we keep our mind tough, and our heart tender. 

 “Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the Prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” John 1:22,23

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