“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” -Picasso
By: Anushka Tewari
Through a continuous rhythmic cycle, the human body destroys billions of cells every day while also replacing them with new ones. This simultaneous circle of creation and destruction ensures the healthy functioning of our bodies. It led me to wonder whether biology has encoded these contradicting yet synchronous actions into human behaviour?
The debate about whether humans are creative or destructive persists. At times, it feels like the latter is winning. Experts estimated that 0.01 to 0.1% of all living species on earth will become extinct each year (World Wildlife Fund). The melting glaciers, rising temperatures, erratic sea levels, and burning forests cry out as testaments to how our industrial and recreational activities have deteriorated the ecosystem. Sometimes, humanity goes to great lengths to create means of massive destruction. Thousands of people and hundreds of infrastructures were wiped out in just a few seconds by the atomic bomb. Technology facilitated the creation of weapons, which, in the wrong hands, can destroy lives and render peace and security elusive.
Amid these destructive efforts, however, we witnessed how communities successfully created productive objects and practices. The city of Hiroshima in Japan, once laid barren by nuclear weapons, is now a manufacturing hub with over a million population. Our ability to produce technology allowed us to explore geographical territories and achieve a greater understanding of the world. Furthermore, it hastened the creation of means for us to communicate and pass on our knowledge across time and space.
One cannot say yes to something without simultaneously saying no to something else. To conform to certain beliefs requires that we disregard others. Like yin and yang, there is an underlying dualism to creation and destruction. The destruction of trees yields paper, wood, and medicine. The destruction of forests creates spaces for modern infrastructure and new human settlements. Destruction is often a prelude to creation, for without dismantling old constructs, we often lack resources and spaces to build something new. Thus, while we illustrate our contrary arguments about the feats we have achieved in both directions, I feel there is an important lesson in this debate.
The cycle of creation and destruction is beautifully explained in Hindu mythology. The Trimurti or the Holy Trinity in Hinduism is composed of three Gods: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver of the universe; and Shiva, the destroyer. These three Gods personify three indispensable cosmic functions. They work in harmony to maintain a balance between new and old, birth and rebirth, creation and destruction. The lesson from this holy balance is that with creation comes destruction. We need not be better at one over the other. Rather we need to focus the direction of this synchronous cycle towards productive possibilities. Are we destroying outdated beliefs and customs to move towards a more progressive society? Are we creating cleaner technology to avoid environmental degradation?
Our destructive and constructive actions should be directed to certain goals. The definition of such goals will speak volumes about our moral values. For instance, minimising carbon footprints and conserving ecological systems seek to neutralise the impact of climate change on the environment. Originating in the 1960s, sustainable development facilitates economic progress without exploiting our natural resources. This mindset must be adopted in everything we do to achieve progress.
I often think of this as I go about my day. I now realize that my actions impact my surroundings. The onus of understanding whether they are contributing to the creation or destruction of something positive lies on me. Do I waste paper for no appreciable reason and contribute to the pointless destruction of forests? Do I participate in discussions about equality that aim to alleviate harmful prejudices? It may feel like our actions are but drops in an ocean. But I believe that we need to appreciate how our choices affect the broader direction of the world. Such reflections will animate actions towards more ethical goals.
Anushka Tewari is in her third year, studying chemistry and finance. She loves to read and listen to music and cares deeply about issues related to sustainability.