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Creation Through Destruction: Embracing Our Identities as Creative Destroyers

Posted on 07 Aug | 3 comments
Creation Through Destruction: Embracing Our Identities as Creative Destroyers

Every act of creation is also an act of destruction. The creation of something new and different, something that has not yet been, demands the destruction of the old and the typical, what is now and what has come before. The presence of destruction is at the core of the creative process itself.

Our most serious difficulties with being creative as human beings are not a result of deficiencies in imagination nor are they principally due to apathy or indifference. While these are often central factors, the ultimate problem lies elsewhere—we don’t want to destroy, we don’t want to participate in destruction. Because we will not destroy, we are unable to create. Because we are unwilling to become destroyers, we cannot become creators. One could in fact say that we don’t dare to imagine new possibilities and realities as doing so inherently destroys our cherished but limiting actualities and current modes of being. Apathy and indifference may just be an insidiously clever disguise to escape the call to create through destroying.

Now, to be clear, in speaking of “destruction” in this way, I of course do not mean destructive acts that result in harm toward self or others, emotionally/physically damaging behavior, violence, etc. There is no argument here to justify such manifestations of destruction, which are certainly not creative, at least not in any positive or healthy sense. However, while there is tragically an excess of destructive incidents that are opposed and antithetical to the process of constructive creation, our experience of our existence as human beings provides a compelling argument for the dynamic of destruction at the heart of creation.

Consider the creative movement of the will in the processes of choosing, deciding, valuing, and believing. Every choice for something is a choice against something else, and every decision for a particular direction or path in life is a decision not to explore other directions or take other paths. Actively identifying with certain values means not identifying with other values, and maintaining certain beliefs means that other beliefs must be sacrificed (May, 1975). The mere acts of willing and choosing, which are so essentially characteristic of our human existence, imply a simultaneous affirmation and negation. Therefore, every affirmation is a hidden negation, and every negation is a hidden affirmation. We want to affirm but find that to do so, we must also negate, that indeed we cannot affirm without negating—that at the core of affirmation lies the dynamic of negation. We cannot say yes without also saying no, and we cannot say no without also saying yes. Every yes toward one thing demands a no toward something else, and an expression of the yes can only be done on the basis of an expression of the no. As we affirm through negating, we create through destroying.

The essence of our difficulties with creativity, though, must surely extend beyond a merely academic or intellectual misunderstanding of the nature of the creative process or resistance to participating in the destructive dynamic. Indeed, it seems that these difficulties are most deeply rooted within our identities as human beings. In creating, I am doing more than merely performing a creative action, even more than intentionally engaging in a creative process, I am a person who is creating—I become a creator. In destroying, I am doing much more than merely exhibiting a destructive behavior or actively participating in a destructive process, I am a person who is destroying—I become a destroyer. While assuming the identity of a creator can be anxiety-provoking and frightening, I believe that at a core level of our humanity we all desire and yearn to be creators, to be people who from out of their creative depths bring forth new and original ideas, possibilities, visions, material and technological inventions, and art forms.

However, the identity of the destroyer terrifies and repulses us—we can’t bear to be and see ourselves as the destroyers of ideals and beliefs, values and dreams, structures and forms, complacencies and false comforts. Even if we understand and acknowledge that such things need to be destroyed in order to create something higher, greater, better, we often would rather someone else be responsible for their destruction, for we do not want to be the destroyers.

But as previously stated, we cannot be creators without also being destroyers. The nature of our existence as human beings demands that we accept and meaningfully integrate a dual, dynamic identity that is constituted by images of both the creator and the destroyer. As Nietzsche states in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885/1995), “And, whoever must be a creator in good and evil, verily, he must first be an annihilator and break values. Thus the highest evil belongs to the highest goodness: but this is creative” (p. 116).

Perhaps what we most need in helping us to embrace the dual identity of our nature is a deep and constant awareness of the critically vital “why” underlying the destructive dynamic within the creative process and the inseparable union of creator and destroyer. We destroy in order to create; we become destroyers so that we can ultimately become creators. We don’t destroy for the mere sake of destruction itself and we must not remain destroyers only. Our responsibility is to participate in destruction that leads to productive creation, not that merely perpetuates further destruction. We will likely be better able to integrate the destroyer aspect of our identity if we can see ourselves as “creative destroyers,” those who destroy in the service of creation, which in the end, may be the secret key to unlocking and releasing the floodgates of our creative potential for growth and constructive transformation.

May, R. (1975). The courage to create. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Nietzsche, F. (1995). Thus spoke Zarathustra: A book for all and none. New York, NY: Modern Library. (Original work published 1883-1885)

-- Scott Kiser

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Comments and Discussions

Scott, I really agree with


I really agree with your thoughts about changed and surpassed. Thank you for your thoughtful response.

I really appreciate your

I really appreciate your thoughtful feedback Misty. Thank you for such a substantial and insightful response! I hear and validate your question and concern regarding my emphasis on "destroying in order to create," that is, on the creative process being predicated on the destructive dynamic, on its necessary presence for creation to occur. I do believe this to be true; however, I don't disagree with your points and examples, which I think are important to understand within this context. Perhaps this may be somewhat of a semantic issue relating to the term "destructive," which doesn't have to mean that what is or has come before is completely destroyed, annihilated, ceases to exist, etc. What I mean by "destruction" is simply that for anything new to come into being or existence past and current realities related to it must be changed and cannot continue to be exactly as they are or have been prior to the new creation. In that sense their exact form and nature are "destroyed" because they have changed and have become different to make possible the creation of the new reality. So, in reference to your examples, past and present traditions and innovations are not completely and totally annihilated when they are replaced by new ones, but I would argue that they are destroyed to the extent that they are changed, adapted, and surpassed to allow for the emergence of new possibilities. The term "destruction" may seem melodramatic o extreme in this context, but my essential point is that regardless of how great or minor the creative change or development is, it cannot emerge unless the destructive dynamic is present to make this possible. Because we so often misunderstand and fear anything "destructive" it is imperative to understand its constructive role in the process of creation, so that we can be creative in the ways we need to be. I hope this helps. Thanks for enlivening dialogue!


Hi Scott, This is an

Hi Scott,

This is an interesting post and I can see much thought and research is behind this. I don't disagree about there being a connection between creation and destruction, but I have some questions about this. One thing I don't understand relates to what you are saying about destroying in order to create. I agree you have to let go of past ways of doing things in order to accept new ways of doing things, but...using a practical example like in the business world...and drawing from Charles Handy (and older sensemaker I'm not ready to throw out with the bath water to make room for new sensemakers), we have to think of what is next on the horizon even when what we have in the present is working successfully in order to be ready for the next curve. However, we don't destroy what is working before the creation. When it comes to products, new innovations as tools replace (thus destroy in a sense) formerly successful products, but companies do not destroy what is working in the market until they have the upgrade is invented and tested. I'm intrigued and listening though. There may be something here I am not making a connection with. Other concerns arise for me as well, such as unintended consequences.

Plus, as we change there are certain values that anchor or ground us so that we are not meandering around without navigational tools. I think these anchors exist even throughout creative processes. So, I guess it is the order you are referring to, with destroying in order to create, that I am not understanding. I think creativity includes elements of tradition and innovation, just like how sensemaking integrates reflection (looking back), paying attention to what is going on in the moment, and looking forward so you can get where you are going. I think there can be a contradiction, but I don't think there is a necessary dichotomy between tradition and innovation. I also think creation can happen by connecting with previously existing truths, so I question whether or not destruction is a pervasive component of creativity.

I look forward to your insights.


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