Where do you want to fly?

Free speech and free press are only as free as responsibility allows. Frequently, I glance at this newspaper’s Feedback columns to see what is being detested and whose acumen is being challenged. And when I seriously read from this daily feeding trough of area thoughts and emotions, occasionally I am mentally nourished.

More often I respond with a “Yi! Did he or she say that?” And this is not to say that I have a corner on knowing the depth of rightful speech. I do not.

The Herald-Mail’s Feedback op-ed column is that body of information that most often holds and reflects the gripes and pains of many who seemingly need or enjoy the age-old exercise called “lashing out.”

Often, it is a blame-game calisthenic in which our uncivil society has become quite adept. Sometimes, these offerings are little more than a drama of unrestrained anger, a getting-even kind of activity played out by frustrated souls who wish to hammer someone or something. This may also be called shadowboxing.

Admittedly, on occasion I have desired a vanishing of these frequently emotive pieces of writing. They can become rather raw, ridiculous, and stuffed with preconceived and devious perceptions that claim the outlandish. I am sure the editors carefully monitor what is printed and are wise in deciding what level of insanity and crassness can be tolerated.

Free speech is to be valued and even expressions we may not like deserve a hearing, even when honesty skirts the edge of normal intelligence. Free speech requires responsibility for civil discourse to happen. Otherwise, thoughtless flailing at someone or something only stirs boiling pots and thwarts the advancement of clarity and truth. To repeat, free speech and free press are only as free as responsibility allows.

A very thin line exists between free speech that is deserved and the profane and defiling speech that is outside the norms of saneness, not to mention good taste. Words and printed frustrations can activate a plethora of violent possibilities that can harm a populace. Yet, it is important that communities have a reservoir to gather and hold the mental and emotional give and take of its citizens. And, that is the real service Feedback columns render.

Healthy communities are those that have framed outlets to vent, stir and digest their passions with the aim of advancing wellness. If one wishes to knife someone or something, it is far better to do so in print than to do so in person. And I reservedly say this knowing that words do matter and fiery rhetoric is a cousin of violence.

I suspect that the agitations Feedback writings can produce help sell a few papers, but I surmise that the powers-that-be at Herald-Mail Media are wise to the boiling points that skew the truth and incite anger that is beyond the pale. I vote for a free press even as it holds a culture’s soiled linen. A free society needs conduits that allow its rhetorical spews a place and space.

And let us remember that within the many voices that speak, there can be the angelic that rises up amid hostile verbiage to bring us light and a better life. Writes Albert Schweitzer: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

As Feedback reflects some of the foibles of a culture’s DNA, such is better known than buried. So much for my rhetorical spews.

Don Stevenson is an adjunct instructor of philosophy and ethics at Hagerstown Community College and is a retired, part-time minister at Trinity Reformed UCC in Boonsboro. His email address is ionadon1@verizon.net.