Paralympic Enlightenment

We’re back to the Olympics and although the fever is somewhat subdued compared with a couple of weeks ago, the nation has awoken to the action of the Paralympics.

Alison Lapper statue.

The opening ceremony was called Enlightenment, which in itself is a very ambitious title. Can you really demonstrate ‘Enlightenment’ and what it means to nations across the world in a one-off ceremony, especially when enlightenment is such a personal thing?

As the great Van Morrison says,

Every second, every minute

It keeps changing to something different

Enlightenment, don’t know what it is

Enlightenment, don’t know what it is”

The Enlightenment that was demonstrated in the Opening Ceremony seemed to have more to do with the western “Age of Enlightenment” than with the eastern concept of awakening and understanding one’s true nature. However, there were elements of this too.

How could there not be when these paralympic athletes have spent so many years learning to live with their disabilities and have progressed along a path to finding themselves, often as a result of an accident or illness that has left them with a physical alteration that has made them change course?

We ought to be careful with how we use words. Even the dictionary definition of ‘enlightenment’ on a Google search comes up with this definition which is not what we would consider to be the true nature of enlightenment:

“A philosophical movement of the 18th century that emphasized the use of reason to scrutinize previously accepted doctrines and traditions and that brought about many humanitarian reforms.”

Though to be fair, they also offer this as a second definition:

“A blessed state in which the individual transcends desire and suffering and attains Nirvana.”

It was the “Age of Enlightenment” that was depicted in the show, with Stephen Hawking demonstrating the immense progression of the mind and technology in even being able to speak to the millions of people watching. Without the revolution of industry that was so effectively conveyed in Danny Boyle’s “Isles of Wonder”, Hawking would not be able to communicate at all, even if he had managed to live as long as he has.

From this Industrial Revolution we did indeed develop scientific knowledge. Nations came together to further their understanding of our world. In a week when the first man to walk on the moon has died, we appreciate the reminder of just how far our understanding of life on Earth and beyond has developed. Yet still we seem to be a long way from the Eastern understanding of enlightenment, and we’re still a moon’s distance away from a full understanding the importance of developing all of our intelligences in order to live harmoniously and effectively – together and alone.

Flags at the Excel Centre. Paralympic site for judo, table tennis, boccia, power lifting and sitting volleyball.

The opening ceremony again offered an amazing spectacle, and it gave us all a healthy reminder of the progress thus far for those of who endure physical disability and learning difficulties. Shakespeare once more had his essential role in the form of Sir Ian McKellan’s warm and full voice of Prospero and speeches from “The Tempest”.

It was incredible and, for us, an absolute delight to see the “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” right at the centre of the celebrations. Hopefully through this, people will be reminded that there is a parallel document that clearly delineates the rights of the child. If more people were aware of this vital document then we might have more adherence to the exceptionally sensible and necessary statements within it.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights

(On this subject, for readers who are interested, we would thoroughly recommend a book called “For Every Child”

See also

The decision to conclude the show with the late Ian Dury’s song “Spasticus Autisticus” was  brave and inspirational, and done without bringing him back Lazarus-style as had been done a fortnight ago with Freddy Mercury.

“Hello to you out there in Normal Land

You may not comprehend my tale or understand

As I crawl past your window give me lucky looks

You can read my body but you’ll never read my books”

In a time when the rights of the disabled are once again being tested in this country and undoubtedly elsewhere, it was wonderful to see that this great world stage gave them an opportunity to campaign for their rights with banners and notes reminding the onlooking world that these incredible human beings have rights and that the book of Human Rights that was wheeled on at the beginning of the performance was not just an artefact of entertainment.

Rights placards

But of course, the Paralympics is about celebration. It is awash with the most humbling stories of overcoming adversity and celebrates who we are and who we can be despite provocation, illness and suffering.

It challenges our own discomforts and indeed our own failings to fully integrate all people in society, be they disabled, disadvantaged or just different.

Ludwig Guttman, the founder of the Paralympics, would have been rightly proud of the spectacle that introduced the London Paralympic Games to the world this year. Overcoming his own hardship and having to flee from the despotic state of Nazi Germany, merely for being born a Jew, gave him an insight into how we all have our paths to follow, even when they take a direction that wasn’t expected. His determination to support people in an unconventional, intelligent way should rightly be applauded. He knew that there were ways to help people physically, but he also recognised the power of the mind, and that in order for people to move forward in their own personal journey of enlightenment, they need to deal with the mind as much as the body.

Maybe he wouldn’t have used the word “enlightenment”, but for us, this is what it is.

We’re looking forward to the next ten days, to seeing how this celebration of sporting achievement pans out. Further photographs of events will follow, assuming the great ticket race can be won!


“Enlightenment says the world is nothing

Nothing but a dream, everything’s an illusion

And nothing is real.

Good or bad, baby

You can change it any way you want

You can rearrange it

Enlightenment, don’t know what it is”

The red circle indicates the Chinese contestant is completely blind

See also

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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1 Response to Paralympic Enlightenment

  1. Yes, enlightenment is a journey inward. What is found on that journey may always be different. Great post!


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