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Who was Right and Who was Wrong? The Award Show Slap.

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

We all heard it. The sound of the slap. The sound of the world buzzing and as we tried to wrap our head around it, we wondered… how could anything like this happen?

Looking at it today and not in the heat of the moment, there is information that lacked in every person’s recount of what happened. Everybody has their own opinion and most of us haven’t looked at it from the big picture view; from myself, to the celebrities that attended the Oscars, to those who watched it happen in real time, and to those of us who saw it on the news.

So why would I say this? Because there were a lot of different discussions going on and many of them biased conversations, which persuaded “us” to look at things from one vantage point. And clearly emotional intelligence was not present, from the participants through to the media. This created more stress and did not diffuse the conflict.

Here's some information to put this into perspective.

Let’s start with the obvious. Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia. It is an autoimmune disorder that results in unpredictable hair loss and is uncurable. It’s no laughing matter for millions of people around the world, especially African American women who are extra susceptible to alopecia.

We live in a world where there are biases (unconscious bias or conscious) and a world where many individuals with a diverse background feel like they aren’t fully embraced. Add a potential situation that creates feelings of insecurity and this can magnify the feeling of not belonging. Not to say that is what Jada has been going through (she rocks her short hair); but that is how many of us can feel when someone points out our differences.

Okay, so what about the person who made the comment? You either thought it was warranted from a brash comedian or you thought “how the heck could he say that!?” Looking into it further, a couple of years ago Chris Rock shared that he has been dealing with a learning disability.

Rock has Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD) that affects his social skills and makes it hard for him to understand non-verbal signals. This disorder is similar to Asperger’s Syndrome. This shows up as a problem with regular social skills and recognizing social cues. He has explained he can take things “too literally” or looks at things as “all or nothing” per an article written by The Hollywood Reporter.

Rock has shared with other reporters that he has gone through seven hours of therapy per week to work through his difficulties. He also admitted to a reporter that when someone responds to him negatively, he thinks it has something to do with the perception the person has of him. Further adding the issues with being famous into his thinking. As opposed to thinking it was what he said, or directly having to do with something he did.

Disabilities not only make it hard for someone in this world to navigate society without looking over their shoulder all the time. They can also make individuals feel like they are not the same as everyone else or won’t be accepted. Folks who face disabilities sometimes worry they may say or do something wrong or against the grain of what is socially acceptable. This can create a situation where these folks are afraid to be open with others, for fear of saying or doing something wrong.

Chris Rock found his calling and turned it into one of America’s most thriving comedy careers, but the same cannot be said for so many other individuals. The percentage of disabilities in the entire world is estimated to be more than 15% of the world population and growing. The world is just now wrapping their head around the fact that this is a situation facing so many people.

Some of these disabilities may seem hidden, because people keep them hidden from others. They are very real and, in many cases, prohibit individuals from functioning to their fullest ability.

Lastly, let’s talk about the individual who instigated the situation. What is known of Will Smith is that he debuted on TV as “Fresh Prince of Belair” and is considered one of the most thriving actors in the world.

What we don’t know is that Will Smith has gone through a lot of traumas in his lifetime. He has expressed this in his book, “Will”, and in various interviews. Growing up he watched his mom be verbally and physically abused. He was also present for a very traumatic event involving his mom. She was hurt badly by his dad and he felt helpless in the situation. He took away a lot of guilt. This also defined him, he decided to be funny, because he believed it would keep his dad happy, keep the peace, and maintain safety in his family. He has been public about working through his childhood trauma, and that it continues to follow him through his adulthood. I am certainly not defending his actions, but during the awards his wife was noticeably upset and his past circumstances could have come into his present experience.

15 million Americans have suffered traumatic events in their lifetime and have lasting impressions they are not even aware of. They carry that weight on their shoulders every day and it can be triggered at any moment.

So now that you have this additional information, it brings a different light to the story… It is not being asked that you take a position on “who was right or who was wrong?” This is being shared for you to see the entire situation, including information that you may or may not have seen in the media over the last few years.

In all situations, we make decisions based on whatever limited information we have, and we create our “position” or “stance” on that information. If we create a belief without looking at the whole picture, this can become a bias perspective. Also, in this particular situation if emotional intelligence was present, it would have been a very different event.

Emotional Intelligence is typically defined as the ability to perceive, understand, manage, and handle our emotions. It is thought that people with high emotional intelligence are in tune with their own emotions and the emotions of others. They adjust their emotions to adapt to the situations, conversations, or environment they are in.

Tying emotional intelligence into this situation, many of the people who had an opinion about this “event” formulated their thoughts to align with their own emotions. They didn’t step back to understand the situation and use empathy (one of the competencies of emotional intelligence) for everyone involved. This prohibited us from empathizing with each individual involved.

Emotional Intelligence allows us to be more open and empathetic to individuals, thus being able to better understand a situation. It also allows us to have self-awareness and realize that maybe we are not seeing the bigger picture of the situation. This diminishes empathy and compassion (compassion and self-awareness are also competencies of emotional intelligence). Empathy is a muscle we should all strengthen, learn more about empathy here.

As for Jada, Chris, or Will… No one was right or wrong in their interpretation of this situation. Though, physical actions that are harmful is not the answer. Everyone acted on their own accord to the physical situations, disabilities, and trauma they were experiencing in their own lives. These are a part of their everyday lives and these are specific situations to them, but are no different than the many things most of the population face on a daily basis.

Were Chris Rock and Will Smith emotionally intelligent in this situation? One could argue Rock should not have said something about anyone’s short hair, being compassionate that the person could have a medical condition (for example, cancer, balding, OR alopecia).

One could argue Smith didn’t show self-awareness or self-control. Yes, he showed compassion for his wife, but he did not consider all the other factors, including the fact that Rock is a comedian. And that being physical is not an answer.

But both individuals went on to show strong emotional intelligence after the fact. In this article “Will Smith’s Apology to Chris Rock is Only 160 Words. A Master Class in Emotional Intelligence, the author shows how Smith used emotional intelligence.

And Rock knew the public wanted to hear from him. He has not said much about the situation, but said he is still processing it and will likely address it in a serious manor at some point. He was also compassionate when he spoke with Wanda Sykes, at the after party, apologizing and acknowledging their hard work to put on a great show and that it was supposed to be their night.

As for me, I learned that there is really more to every situation than we realize and there is no reason for me to have an opinion. I do have empathy for each individual involved, including others like the hosts of the show, the academy, the audience that was at the event, and the families of the people involved.

Emotional intelligence can help us to see the bigger picture. It helps us to embrace differences, face crisis, build relationships, reduce stress, defuse conflict, and improve our career satisfaction. It can also enhance our capacity for resilience and help us navigate social situations. It can make us take a step back and do the right thing, like communicate, rather than acting in a way that has deeper ramifications.

Emotional intelligence showed up a week later at the Grammy’s, when Trevor Noah approached the subject right away. He shared “We’re going to be listening to some music. We’re going to be dancing. We’re going to be singing. We’re going to be keeping people’s names out of our mouths and we’re going to be giving out awards all throughout the night.”


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