Creative and Destructive

“We must recognise and nurture the creative parts of each other without always understanding what will be created.”

Audre Lorde

Could rethinking what working creatively means become an antidote to antagonism and division in many of our spaces?

One often hear people say ‘I’m not creative,’ suggesting creativity is limited to some innate gift which gives one the ability to create beautiful pieces of art.

But if we consider creative as a sort of opposite to destructive, it evokes something quite different, which may even suggest we can all adopt creative ways of working.

Creative as an adjective, is defined as having the ability or power to create something. The verb create means to bring something into existence. But this doesn’t limit itself to creating something from nothing, it can also be about making connections, or even seeing connections not seen before. Thinking creatively simply means to think differently. In certain circumstances, thinking creatively can be a radical act.

Destructive, on the other hand, breaks those connections, tears down ideas and divides. Those destructive forces we see in the world are often those we stand in opposition to, yet how we express our opposition is often with similar destructive behaviour; just like when we use war-related language in our statements of goals or intentions. 

And there is no doubt that sometimes, breaking something or tearing something apart, be it someone’s idea or a system can be really quite satisfying. So choosing creative over destructive doesn’t mean that there aren’t institutions, laws and ideas that shouldn’t be dismantled or abolished. But too often we stop at the destruction phase and simply assume that whatever else replaces it will be better. 

But this destructive behaviour permeates more than one campaign goal and can become an attitude. We see this in some human rights spaces when the rights of a stigmatised or neglected group are advanced, and instead of opening up the circle to make space for them, some will assume that their gain must equate to someone else’s loss. Are we not then doing the work of the oppressors for them?

Freedom is not a commodity that is only available in a limited quantity and can therefore, at best, only be shared. Advancing rights and freedoms for one group advances rights and freedoms for everyone. As civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer famously said “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

This is not to suggest that creating alternatives is an easy feat, nor is it simply about encouraging creative problem solving. For example, we see a lot of naive insistence that the climate crisis is a problem that can be fixed. While some of the solutions presented might sound creative, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein said. 

In our sister organisation, CRIN, we recently decided to describe ourselves as a ‘creative think tank.’ The use of creative does not refer to us using artwork as part of our language, but rather as a statement of intent. This is not out of some arrogant belief that we have the answers, rather that there is a need to change perspective, focus less on the destructive and put more energy into creating alternatives, making new connections and showcasing other ideas. 

So why do we often struggle to work creatively? In Trauma Stewardship, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky says creativity requires us to embrace a certain amount of chaos. She quotes Ancient Roman Philosopher Cicero who said: “only the person who is relaxed can create, and to that mind, ideas flow like lightning.”

This doesn’t mean we can only be creative in a harmonious environment – so much art is created out of chaotic and horrific situations. Creating something or thinking creatively could  ease pain and suffering through its potential to heal. This is why the role of artists and those unrestricted by conventional thinking has been overlooked for so long in our work.

Perhaps working creatively could simply be about how we interact with our environment, learning to let go of what we know and embrace what we don’t know. There may be times where a creative act might simply mean walking away from spaces that are destructive. In the words of Julio Cortázar, “nothing is lost when you have the courage to proclaim that everything is lost and you have to start over.” 

Words, Veronica Yates and illustration, Miriam Sugranyes