An Olympic Tragedy: A Clarification

The opening ceremony in Beijing was to feature one solo dance, performed by one of China’s top classical dances, Liu Yan.  According to the NY Times:  

But on July 27, during an evening rehearsal at Beijing’s National Stadium, the so-called Bird’s Nest, she leaped toward a platform that malfunctioned and plunged about 10 feet into a shaft, landing on her back, according to family members.

She was rushed to a local military hospital and underwent six hours of surgery but suffers from nerve and spinal damage.

Doctors have told her family it is unlikely she will ever walk again.

There are some tapes of her performances on youtube:

Does calling this accident a tragedy mean  that somehow her life  is over or worthless?  I hope no one would advance that interpretation, but since one disability theorist reads it that way, let me clarify.  Liu Yan reached a high stage of professional accomplishment.  That is the sort of achievement many of us strive for, and others certainly admire.  Her achievement took many years of extremely dedicated effort.  She deserved to have the career she was engaged in, and she now cannot have it, at least as she imagined it before her accident, the indications  are. That is tragic. It does not mean her life is over or worthless.

I haven’t read Dan Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness, but I’ve read some of his academic papers and invited him to my university for a talk and workshop.  If you are tempted to think something like “if you can’t walk your life is over,” or “if someone dedicated to ballet can’t dance her life is over,” then I strongly recommend reading his  work.  This also goes for “I can’t live without her/him” (just in case someone might think that).  In general, Gilbert convincingly argues, we have little idea of actual human resiliency. 

Liu Yan has to be a remarkable person, and there are many futures open to her.  Obviously.

(Gilbert, perhaps I should add, is a serious Harvard psych prof, not a self-help guru.)

3 thoughts on “An Olympic Tragedy: A Clarification

  1. Oh so beautiful – the music, the dance and the lyrical use of the body. What a terrible shame for this young woman, her family and the world.

  2. Thanks for this post. I didn’t know this had happened, though I recall hearing something briefly about it on NPR connected – like everything else we hear about China – to what a poor host country China is and how the Olympics only highlights the country’s egregious wealth gap (as though the U.S. is just expert at taking care of its poor and easing the wealth gap).

    FYI, the title of the book is actually _Stumbling on Happiness_. I just put it on my Amazon Wish List.

  3. Thanks for the info, J. I’ll fix the title in the post.

    When I’ve been in China, I’ve had to sit through some uncomfortable lectures where people have felt they needed to tell me what they think of the States. Well….

    One thing that did surprise me is that the people I met (mostly youngish scientists, but some philosophers) did not feel very sympathetic to the homeless and unemployed. They are not pulling their weight, was the sense conveyed.

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