One of the great privileges of being an American is the freedom of speech. Unlike most countries of the world, we can still express our views openly, within reason.
Talk is everywhere, whether on radio, TV, cell phones, Internet, etc. However, with such privilege comes great responsibility, whether in the public or private domain.
Words are powerful and can help or hinder; they either build people up or tear them down. The old adage, ''Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names (words) can never hurt me,'' is really not true. I have seen folks readily healed from knife and gunshot wounds, who have yet to overcome the inner trauma caused by the cancer of caustic words.
The tongue is a potent instrument. For instance, a positive word can greatly encourage a child's heart, while a negative tirade can crush that child's spirit. Some children have grown up with the constant ''reminder'' that they are ''stupid, and will never amount to anything.'' How many families are in disarray and divorce-bound because of hateful speech? Listen to how young people display verbal hostility and ''bullying'' toward each other. Words have dire consequence.
There is certainly room for free expression of varied opinions, whether on a national or local level. Talk radio is a constant means for exchanging ideas, especially in the political arena. With the presidential election coming up, this warfare of words will only escalate. Regardless of political persuasion, there's no reason why this world of ideas cannot be approached with civility and mutual respect.
With that in mind, I am thankful for the outstanding service rendered by our Tribune Chronicle. The editorial staff has demonstrated great concern for our community, along with an open forum for the diversity of ideas. The 200th year celebration was a testimonial of our national history and the Tribune's dynamic role in journalism. The publishers need to be commended for their dedication to free speech and their contribution to the legend of America.
It has been both an honor and challenge to contribute as a ''community columnist.'' I've had ''fans'' and critics, but it's all been par for the course. Some articles have been controversial, giving us opportunity to stretch our minds. More than once, I've been ''bent out of shape'' by pieces printed in the Tribune; but some of you have had a similar reaction after reading my ''stuff.'' Whatever the case, it's been a learning experience and a meaningful adventure not afforded to those who live in Iran.
This matter of free speech also warrants a personal evaluation. I am amazed at the incessant volume of cell phone use. Are we really communicating with one another, or is it just ''chit-chat?'' Do we really have something to say, or do we just have to say something? Are we effectively using this privilege, or abusing it? Then you have the TV ''celebrities'' who can't speak a sentence without profanity. With so many ''bleeps,'' one begins to question, among other things, the size and depth of their vocabulary.
Our character is revealed by our words; to hear a person speak his mind for five minutes reveals who he really is. In counseling, words are vital in promoting understanding and fostering healing to those involved. Therefore, the need for heart-to-heart communication of truth in our relationships is paramount. I believe that fewer couples would divorce if they faced their problems with honesty and humility.
As citizens, it's time to use our freedom of speech while we still have it. Insidious forces are at work to curtail and squelch this privilege.
On every level, our words have impact, which behooves us to use them carefully. Character and verbal integrity are woefully scarce these days. The need to ''say what we mean and mean what we say'' is overdue. How different our world would be if words were properly used, rather than abused.
Finnigan is a Howland resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.