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Are Creation and Destruction Part of What Makes Us Human?

Creation and DestructionThe Big Question

My city, Lahore, has not always been called the City of Gardens. In fact, a few hundred years ago, such a title would have been ridiculed by the locals, because Lahore was once a barren desert as far as the eye could see.

It was the rulers of the Mughal Era who made the first steps towards irrigation, transforming an arid wasteland into a botanical and cultural paradise. Today, when we visit the beautiful inner city of Lahore with its historical and architectural splendours, it’s almost impossible to envision that there was a time before the looming white Minar-e-Pakistan existed. It seems hard to believe that the breathtaking Shahi Mosque was once little more than a sandy conglomerate of dunes. That human beings, our ancestors, were able to fashion such beauty out of the earth shows the incredible potential of human creation and innovation.

And then, another picture surfaces: that of the infamous Lahore Mall Road. A few decades ago, Mall Road was called “Thandi Sarrak,” or “Cold Road,” because of the relief from the relentless sunlight provided by the mighty, wizened trees along the road. Now, fewer and fewer people refer to it by this name. Heavy deforestation has destroyed much of the natural landscape; Lahore becomes less green every day.

Do I, then, live in a city of paradoxes? Perhaps all of us do. It almost seems as if, in the scale balance of human existence, every ounce of creation is balanced with an ounce of destruction. After all, the conversion of a desert into a city of gardens involves the destruction of the natural state of the land. Similarly, the destruction of trees is a prelude to the creation of new human settlements. But surely there should be some way of tilting this balance, so that every positive action doesn’t have a negative consequence. If human beings possess such a remarkable capacity to build up and break down, our next goal should be to find ways to grow while minimizing our destruction.

Cities aren’t the only things subject to constant reform and decay. Creation and destruction have their roots in the very essence of human existence. After all, every day the average adult human body creates over 200 billion cells, and an even larger number of cells die. It almost seems as if human behavior is coded for by our internal biology. But does that give us an excuse to exercise our creative and destructive tendencies on the environment around us?

Humans have been around for less than 1% of life on earth, but despite this brief time, we have impacted every corner of our planet and all the other life forms that share it with us. There are over 8 million other species inhabiting earth, and yet it is human beings who are constantly making space for their growing numbers, driving out other species from their natural habitats. We create living space for ourselves, and we destroy living spaces for other animals.

However, human creation and destruction are certainly not limited to the battle between urban construction and nature’s preset conditions. We’re capable of creating things far less temporal, and yet so significant. Poems and plays, songs and music, books and ideas — aren’t all of these a testament to our innate urge to create? There are signs of this splattered across history; a glimpse at the Hieroglyphics inscribed into pyramids, the pottery vases and utensils of ancient Mesopotamia, even ancient African tribal dances, all lead to the same conclusion: we were born to create.

On the other hand, destruction seems to come to us naturally, too. It cannot be said that our ancestors knew nothing of destruction; with every pottery vase discovered in archaeological excavations, some crude weaponry forms was found alongside it. Even the most primitive humans created civilisations out of animal habitats.

However, if “destruction” were to be quantified and compared between the ages, it would certainly be found that humans are becoming more and more destructive. Since the industrial revolution, we have been the main contributors to climate change, the extinction of species, the depletion of natural resources, and a variety of other issues discussed in debate rooms worldwide.

So if creation and destruction are a part of what makes us human, is it possible to control how much we create, and how much we destroy? Can one occur in the absence of the other?

We can answer these questions by taking a more introspective look at our own experiences. My own life has taught me the impact that one person can have on another, and that the choice to be creative or destructive lies entirely with us. Bullying and harassment are just some of the examples of how destructive human beings can be towards each other. Every day, there are hundreds of cases worldwide of bullying that is so catastrophic it drives the victim to depression, or even suicide. Alternatively, a simple smile or an act of kindness can have a profound effect. Donations and social work can literally save human lives. A friendly word to an absolute stranger can culminate in the creation of relationships.

Human creation and destruction may be part of what makes us human, but the choice to be one, or both, lies within us, as well. A fatalistic approach, accepting our destructive qualities as innate and indelible, will only lead to continuing destruction, violence and ruin. Alternatively, if every individual, every company, and every government processes their decisions in a way that is sensitive to consequences yet eager for progression, we can bypass the imminent consequences of our activities. If such a model is adopted, perhaps wars and conflict won't exist in the world. Perhaps we can find a way of helping ourselves without hurting our surroundings. Perhaps we can retain what it means to be human, and yet remember what it means to be humane.

Zainab Umar is a 17-year old student at the Lahore Grammar School in Pakistan. Her hobbies include writing, reading, art, and public speaking.

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