Words matter. And with masks covering our grins and grimaces, they matter even more.
Yesterday I pulled into a shopping centre car park, as the neighbouring motorist pulled out.
“You dumb, fat slut,’’ he said, before driving off, without really explaining his strong objection.
Often, we lament the language of our teens, but my teen sat stunned that this driver’s language would involve such personal vitriol.
Words matter. And this week, we received a lesson, courtesy of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, that they matter greatly in public life.
“What’s going to happen to the children?” she asked. “Unless there is an answer on how these young people are going to be vaccinated, you are putting the most vulnerable population at risk.
“So anyone who has grandchildren, or young children, or nephews or nieces know how that plays on people’s minds.”
Her words were chosen, carefully. Artfully, even. And they were aimed squarely at her constituents, who she has promised daily “to keep safe’’.
But 24 hours later, her words held a bit less meaning after she was forced to backpedal on exactly how much children matter.
Her policy had allowed a three-year-old boy to be stranded in New South Wales, without his parents, for several weeks.
So do all children matter? Or some children? Or Queensland children?
Ms Palaszczuk’s misstep has earned condemnation across the nation; ironically at the time she wants to be seen as a national figure, and the wise leader on all things COVID.
And it will follow her in the same way Bob Hawke, as prime minister, found out it was foolhardy to promise that by 1990 no child will live in poverty.
Or in the way Kevin Rudd declared climate change as “the great moral challenge of our generation” without really backing such extraordinary words with action.
Or the way Tony Abbott vowed there would be no cuts to the public service.
Or even in the same way Scott Morrison announced that “I don’t hold a hose, mate, and I don’t sit in a control room”.
Words matter. And they can define someone in ways they wish they didn’t.
Annastacia Palaszczuk learnt that lesson this week.
But the response to her cheap political play wasn’t much better.
Her view on children was dismissed as appalling and scaremongering, and she earned the moniker, the “Karen” of this pandemic.
No facts. No figures. Just colourful words, sprayed like paint.
It’s happening outside of politics with increased vigour too, on the road and in the news, on social media, and in the school yard.
The taunts are more personal. The road rage angrier.
Old tired newspaper pages have become the competition ground for loud incivility. Brash beats gallant to the headline every time.
A cursory glance of the news delivered patients who were maimed and killed, a weatherman’s war on killer cats, pandemic brides and extraordinary powers, economic shocks and foul sex acts.
Time wasters and misfits and gang warfare. Atrocities and iron fists. Offensive tirades, dud laws and border blackmail.
None of those descriptions might be wrong. But every single one of them shouts, as though we cannot see or hear them otherwise.
Social media has made this worse. Sensational works as clickbait. But even simple questions can sound so much harsher than they’re really meant.
“Are you vaccinated?” has become an insult, as much as a question, even to those desperately seeking a jab.
Tone matters too.
But sometimes, still, a deafening silence can even beat the power of words, no matter how loud and brash they might be.
“Sorry’’ might have been a simple, workable response, without a hint of sensationalism.
Or “I felt obliged to pay it back.” That might have been reasonable too. Understated, certainly. But at least a response.
Or “It didn’t matter to the bottom line” would even have worked. That possibly would be very true.
But, at the end of the week, few will think more of Gerry Harvey because he chose not to speak.
Words really do matter.