Will Smith Slapped Chris Rock: What Can We Learn About Compassionate Accountability®?

Posted on April 6, 2022 by Nate Regier / 1 comments
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One of the biggest stories of the year in entertainment will be when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock during the 2022 Academy Awards. Since then, Will has issued at least two public apologies and resigned from the Academy. Although his behavior was totally unacceptable, Will’s biggest mistake wasn’t slapping Chris Rock. His biggest mistake was not owning his first mistake; laughing at the expense of his wife.

What Happened? Will Smith Slapped Chris Rock

So what happened? While hosting the awards, Chris Rock made a joke aimed at Jada Pinkett Smith, Will’s wife of 24 years. “Jada, love you. GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.” This joke was a reference to Demi Moore’s character in the first GI Jane movie having a shaved head, poking fun at Jada’s short hair.

Will’s immediate response was to chuckle at the joke, seemingly finding it funny. Meanwhile, Jada rolled her eyes, staring daggers at Chris, clearly not amused. Seconds later, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. As he was returning to his seat, he yelled at Chris, “Keep my wife’s name out of your _____ mouth!”

First hand reports say that after Will laughed at the joke, Jada gave him the same eye-roll and daggers, sending him the message that she clearly did not approve of his response.

What happened in the next few seconds is likely something we can all relate to. A mistake that results in being exposed. Jada’s reaction to Will exposed him. For a man who wants to be seen as a supportive and protective husband and a role model for integrity, Jada’s response sent exactly the opposite message.

How do you want to be seen? Have you ever acted contrary to this? Have you ever worried that your behavior would send the wrong message?

How do you respond?

After Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, he wrote an instagram apology that said, “Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally,”

How good was Will’s apology? Here’s an analysis by noted trust expert, Randy Conley.

My view is that Will’s apology was an excuse. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have laughed at the joke in the first place. This excuse reveals Will’s need to be seen as a person of integrity who protects his wife, but only further exposes his first mistake.

After seeing Jada’s response, Will tried to cover his own guilt by lashing out at Chris Rock. My hunch is he re-directed his negative feelings about himself towards Chris, as if slapping Chris could somehow make up for the disrespect he showed his wife.

Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. But imagine if Jada would have slapped Will instead?

I feel for Will. I’ve done the same thing. I hate feeling embarrassed, guilty and exposed. I hate the vulnerability of admitting I messed up and making that apology. I hate the consequences when I try to cover it up and make the next big mistake.

Do you ever skip past your own difficult feelings and look for someone else to blame? Do you ever try to make up for a mistake by making another one?

Compassionate Accountability Takeaways

Compassionate Accountability means recognizing and experiencing your true feelings as valuable and legitimate. It also means taking full responsibility those feelings. The most authentic and responsible thing Will could have done was to share with Jada how he felt the moment he realized he had messed up, and apologize to his wife for his disrespectful behavior. Doing that in front of his peers would have sent a completely different message about what kind of a person he is.

In his statement resigning from the Academy, Will said this; “Change takes time and I am committed to doing the work to ensure that I never again allow violence to overtake reason.”

For all of the Will Smiths out there, perhaps the real work is less about allowing reason to rule, but to embrace authenticity and take ownership for your real feelings.

Life threatens how we want to see ourselves. Sometimes we get desperate trying to manage perception when we should be getting honest and vulnerable instead.

Here are six emotional motives for authenticity. Can you identify which one Will might be struggling with? What about you? How can you recognize and take responsibility for your feelings so that your behavior demonstrates Compassionate Accountability?

Best thing Will said, also in the apology to Chris Rock, was, “I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us. I am a work in progress.”

We are all on a gorgeous journey. We will all make mistakes. Compassionate Accountability helps us to turn those mistakes into connection, trust, learning, and authenticity. We all are a work in progress.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2022

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Photo of Chuck Frith
Chuck Frith
Posted on April 6, 2022

An interesting take on this interaction. I”m sure we will all be looking at this incident to gain a better understanding of what happened. There is a lot to unwrap and we may never truly know “Why” he did what he did. He may not fully understand it himself. Hindsight, and multiple camera angles, gives us the opportunity to rewind and review ad nauseum. What is clear to me, has been said by many other. “It all happened so fast.” What we saw is how quickly Karpman’s triangle can shift. We can understand that his distress was significant, and possibly prolonged. Chris Rock’s previous Oscar comments regarding Jada may have “loaded the gun” so to speak. The public nature of the Smith’s marital issues may have also been factors contributing to his distress. What you describe seems accurate and as plausible as any theory in understanding the 1,2,3, of what happened in that theater.

Photo of Nate Regier
Nate Regier
Posted on April 6, 2022

Thanks Chuck. Great point about “it all happened so fast.” I can relate!

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