Nothing IS Something

Next to the work I do in my company, one of my focuses over the years has been supporting women in advancing their careers and achieving gender balanced leadership. To this end, I recently co-authored and helped publish a book entitled ‘Ready for Female Leadership: The Future is NOW’.

In the past few years, I’ve expanded my desire for an ‘all encompassing’ equitable and inclusive workplace and society. This embraces not only all the ‘isms’ we commonly hear about but also one which has taken a backseat to all the others: ageism (I call ageism the ‘forgotten child of DEI strategies’ – hopefully a useful oxymoron).

In 2020 and 2021, I was fortunate to be a guest speaker for Vivian Acquah’s ‘Amplify DEI’ summits. She asked me a question in our pre-summit interviews: “What would you tell your younger self about the topics you spoke about (Discrimination and the Stress Response / 50 plus As Change Agents)? And why?”

My response to her was as follows, though perhaps not verbatim: “Every action has a consequence which falls somewhere on what I consider the scale of good or bad. Doing nothing is also doing something and that is bad. We all need to play a role to ensure racist and biased behavior becomes intolerable behavior.”

In replaying this back to myself recently, it made me think of an essay I wrote in the late 70’s. I had joined the Canadian Armed Forces as a military nursing officer. During basic officer training, we had to write an essay and share this to our group. A high ranking officer would grade us on poise and confidence. Nothing exciting came to mind as a topic, so I decided to write my essay entitled ‘Nothing is Something’. Here follows a portion of that essay. How I was rated by the attending officer is a story for another day…

The dictionary describes ‘nothing’ as:

  • Not any thing : no thing
  • Indicating the absence of meaning, value, worth, etc.
  • Of no importance or significance

Now let’s think about all the euphemisms we use for the word ‘nothing’ in our everyday language.

That person means nothing to me – which should tell the listener that this person is of no significance to me. Actually, it speaks volumes about the impression this person has made on me.

Nothing doing which means definitely no. If I hear a definite no then this is the opposite of yes, which tells me I’m not going to get what I want – and that is something.

Then we combine it with the word less. The idea is nothing less than revolutionary. [= the idea is revolutionary]

If you come to the party empty handed you have nothing in your hands, which can be very significant to the person hosting the party.

Has anyone ever told you that you have nothing to fear? Just how relaxed did this make you feel?

And when you see a wrong being committed against someone or society in general, doing nothing is tantamount to doing something, which could have very dire consequences.

The Cost of Doing Nothing

It’s this last one for which I hope you’ll sit up and take notice. How often have you let a minor or major transgression pass without calling it out, personally or professionally?

The cost of doing ‘nothing’ is incalculable: mentally, emotionally and financially to our society as a whole. Why would we perpetuate something that has so many negative consequences? Is it to preserve a false sense of superiority or privilege, which only serves to harm us? If so, how ridiculous is this?

We can all do something, even some little thing, to ensure an equitable and inclusive society. What will you do?