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Trimble: ‘A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,’ Revisited

October 21, 2015

john-trimble-ibaThose of you who know me well know that I am a proud alumnus of Hanover College. Earlier this month I had the pleasure of being present as Hanover inaugurated its 16th president, Dr. Lake Lambert. In his inaugural address, Dr. Lambert drew from the 1959 sermon of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. entitled, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart.” Dr. Lambert made the case that a liberal arts education should instill in students the strengths and attributes espoused by Dr. King in his sermon.

As I listened to Dr. Lambert’s speech and his references to the sermon it occurred to me that the speech could have easily been a message to lawyers. Now that I have read the sermon, I am convinced of it.

Few Americans have had the chance to have their life span overlap with the likes of a Washington or Lincoln or King, but many of you reading this article grew up during the closing years of Dr. King’s life. I, for one, have always searched for a deeper understanding of Dr. King and what he means to this country. His sermon, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” will help you understand just who he was and why he was a timeless thought leader. His sermon is so timely that it could have been written yesterday.

While Dr. King’s sermon was written and preached to Christians, his message applied equally to all enlightened human beings. As if he was speaking today, King made light of the “soft-minded” gullibility of people who believe every advertisement they see. He noted the tendency of people to “accept the printed word of the press as final truth.” He stated that soft-minded people “fail to see that even facts can be slanted and truth can be distorted,” and, he commented on how they fall prey to superstition and irrational fears.

Importantly, he opined that, “The soft minded always fear change. The most pain of all pain for them is the pain of a new idea. They get security in the status quo.” According to Dr. King, “Soft mindedness is also one of the basic causes of racial prejudice. … Racial prejudice grows out of fears which are groundless.” King urged that people must develop a toughness of mind that causes them to be cautious about jumping to conclusions, and they must be willing to scrutinize facts before judging a person or situation.

At the same time that Dr. King advocated for tough mindedness, he also encouraged that people have “tender” hearts. He opined that hard-hearted people have no “genuine compassion.” They “never see people as people.” They are “cold, self-centered and heartless.” In his view the model of a dictator is one with a tough mind and mean heart.

I hope that this very brief description of Dr. King’s sermon enables you to see how his message applies to lawyers. We, of all people, have to have the toughness of mind to ferret out the facts of a case and reserve judgment until we are able to discern the truth. We are duty bound to avoid unreasonable slanting of facts or distortion of truth. We work in a profession that is changing wildly with each passing year, so we must be agents of change and embrace it. We must be the first to reject prejudices of all kinds and seek to eliminate them wherever we find them.

Furthermore, we have to have the tenderness of heart to do justice equitably. We have to promote civility, professionalism, compassion and understanding. We have to disagree without being disagreeable; we must confront without being confrontational; we must judge without being judgmental.

Society demands, and our profession demands, that every one of us strive to have a tough mind and a tender heart.•#WILLYOUBETHERE?

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