A week has passed, and everyone is still talking about the Oscars. It’s all over the news—specifically actor Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock during the event. Many of us know Smith not only for his acting but also for his spiritual wisdom. And that leaves us wondering how to put Smith’s action into context with his spiritual nature.
Smith is most well known for his roles in such movies as Men in Black, The Pursuit of Happiness, I Am Legend, and Seven Pounds. He has been nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures for Best Actor twice previously. His Oscar for Best Actor in the 2021 film King Richard was his first.
While a lesser-known role, Smith has become a bit of a spiritual role model. He has talked about the Law of Attraction, possibilities, and choice and spent time with spiritual guru Sadhguru Jaggi Vasdevso. And he has been open about his search to find happiness and learn to be of service.
So, it’s difficult to understand how a spiritual person like Smith could behave violently. It seems to go against his nature. Of course, we can reason that he was driven to this reaction because Rock made an inappropriate comment about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, but still…
Does someone who is genuinely spiritual react that way? And does Rock’s insensitive joke excuse—or explain—Smith’s behavior?
The Slap that Reverberated Around the World
Smith’s slap reverberated around the world—or at the very least around America. However, we are more aware of and activated by violence at this time than we were even two years ago.
Plus, humanity is evolving spiritually. Many more people now study spiritual concepts and follow spiritually-minded people with large platforms. So, when one of these spiritual role models behaves in a way that seems out of character, it’s normal to feel confused, upset, and disappointed.
I conducted an Author Coaching session the day after the Oscars for Nonfiction Writers University and Inspired Creator Community members. Even in this writing-related group, someone raised the issue of the “Smith Slap.” Most of the members of these programs are interested in personal and spiritual growth. Still, I was surprised they wanted to discuss Smith’s actions.
“How do I put Will Smith’s aggressive or violent behavior into the context of him being a spiritual person?” the member asked. “I follow him, and he’s super-spiritual. I’ve even mentioned him in my book. So how could he have stood up in the middle of the Oscars and slapped Chris Rock?”
My answer was simple: “He is like all of us, a spiritual being having a human experience. And the human experience is not always easy. Plus, consider that the Oscars is a stress-filled situation, which escalates the human tendency to get triggered and react, rather than respond.”
Will Smith Didn’t Respond—He Reacted
Let’s break down the last part of my response.
A reaction is an unconscious behavior. When you say you were triggered, you reacted to a situation based on old traumas, hurts, and beliefs. When something triggers you, you behave almost instinctually without thought.
Reactions often seem irrational because they are. The rational mind is not involved in the decision to act a certain way. You react unintentionally without thought.
On the other hand, a response is an intentional, conscious action. It’s a choice we make about how to behave, what to say, or what to do. So a response seems more rational, although sometimes our old stories cause us to make irrational decisions.
Even spiritual people get triggered. Of course, a few exceptional ones don’t, but most humans, no matter their consciousness level do. But those who put time and effort into personal and spiritual growth are more likely to respond in such situations. Still, any unresolved issues held in the unconscious can surface in the right situation.
Sometimes Human Beings Misbehave
Being human or a triggered human is no excuse for inappropriate behavior. No one—not even me—is giving Smith a free pass for bad behavior. Nor am I condoning violent behavior. But we can try to understand his actions in the context of the circumstances and his human condition.
Sometimes human beings misbehave—even when they are good or spiritual people.
No matter the level of consciousness, evolution, transformation, or spirituality, we are still human beings dealing with the human condition. That can prove challenging even at the best of times. We are all doing the best we can, and sometimes our best is not as good as we’d like.
Smith showed remorse for his actions and apologized publicly after the Oscars. (Sidenote: Rock has not apologized for the insensitive joke made at Pinkett Smith’s expense, which triggered her husband.) And he later resigned from the Academy of Motion Pictures.
And I’m sure Smith will be looking closely at his reaction and doing the internal work to grow beyond this trigger. (At least, he seems to be the type of person who would do so.) Some have speculated that his reaction came from old subconscious issues related to his abusive father and his inability to protect his mother from that abuse. Indeed, it makes sense in that context that he jumped to defend his wife. He may also have felt guilty for initially laughing at Rock’s joke, which intensified his inner drive to protect the woman he loves.
But the reasons for his behavior are not as important as doing the internal work necessary to sense when he is triggered. With an increased awareness level, he can choose an appropriate response next time. Or he can diffuse the trigger with personal development or healing modalities, like hypnosis.
Being able to choose a response rather than reacting to a triggering situation is consciousness in action. That’s what we all should strive for, including Smith.
Don’t Knock Smith Off His Pedestal
Years ago, I attended a program by a well-known spiritual teacher. One evening he was scheduled to speak about the energetics and creative energy of sex. The topic was obviously difficult for him to discuss because he showed up with a mixed drink in his hand. Before he was done talking, he consumed at least three more. I was disappointed that he needed alcohol to feel comfortable discussing this topic, and it struck me as out of character.
At the end of the program, I attended a reception for the attendees. Not only did this teacher drink quite a lot at the event, but he hit on many of the young, beautiful women there. (He was married and had a young son.) I was again disappointed but also shocked at his behavior.
“He’s such an evolved and spiritual person, so why would he behave that way?” I wondered.
Of course, I was judging him. And I knocked him off the pedestal on which I placed him.
Similarly, most people have knocked Smith off his pedestal. But he didn’t place himself there. And he has flaws and weaknesses, just as my spiritual teacher—and all of us—do.
Don’t Negate the Good
Back at home and I told someone about my experience. He pointed out that I not only put the teacher on a pedestal but also expected him to be superhuman. I expected him to be perfect when, in fact, he was a flawed human doing his best in the moment.
Then he asked, “What will you do now? Will you negate the value of his teachings, the five-day experience you had, and everything you’ve learned from him? Are you going to decide none of that held value?”
In fact, I had been doing just that as I judged his behaviors. Maybe his best wasn’t as good as I would have liked, but it was not my place to expect more or judge him when he did not meet my expectations. And his behavior did not lessen the value of his teachings or the experience I had with him.
So, I ask you a similar question: Do we negate Smith’s performance in King Richard because he slapped Rock? The Academy of Motion Pictures has threatened to take his Oscar away as punishment.
Or do we look at the actor and let him keep his well-deserved Oscar and the human and deal with the slap as a separate matter? In my humble opinion, we do the latter.
After all, his performance and his behavior are two unrelated things. As an actor, he earned that award; as a human, there should be repercussions for his actions.
Is Only One Person at Fault?
However, let’s not forget the mostly-ignored issue that not just one person is at fault in this event. Rock told an inappropriate and insensitive joke at the expense of someone with a medical condition; Smith’s wife suffers from alopecia, which causes hair loss. And no one has called him out for making the GI Jane 2 reference. (In GI Jane, actress Demi Moore shaved her head).
Instead, the focus is on the violence Smith displayed. And that’s because we have become super sensitive to violence due to incidents like the death of George Floyd, school shootings, and the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capital Building.
But what about sensitivity to verbal “attacks”? Not so much, and that’s unfortunate. Even so-called spiritual people can forget to pay attention to their words, but we should all be more conscious of our speech.
Words hurt—just like a slap. Yet, hurtful words can leave emotional scars that last a lifetime.
An Opportunity to Practice Compassion
I see this whole Oscar Slap as an opportunity to practice compassion for our fellow humans. And if you consider yourself a spiritual person, compassion is likely something you already focus on feeling and expressing.
Plus, I suggest we all keep forefront in our minds the saying, “There but by the grace of God go I.” It could be you—or me—who next reacts poorly in some situation. Maybe it won’t be with millions of people watching on national television, but still…
You might react inappropriately with a family member, in front of your Instagram followers, or on stage speaking to an audience of 500, 1,000, or 10,000 people. You could get triggered at work, at a social gathering, or with your spouse, and, before you know it, you’ve done or said something you regret.
Most of us have times when we do not show up as our best selves despite our best efforts. That’s because we are human.
But, if we are spiritual or interested in growing personally, we learn from these experiences. As a result, we change, and we do better next time.
The Aftermath of Reacting Poorly
Each of us is responsible for our behavior. So even if you react poorly for what seems like the right reasons, those reasons (or excuses) don’t matter. Instead, what matters is what you do next.
So, what do you do?
First, I suggest you intentionally and consciously respond to your own behavior with a formal apology. Fess up! And say you are sorry.
Second, let go of any attachment to the other person’s response to your apology. That’s their business. Yours is simply to become aware that you behaved inappropriately, feel remorse for your actions, apologize, and, if possible, make amends.
Hopefully, the hurt party will have compassion for you and say, “Hey, you’re human. Sometimes I misbehave, too.”
Third, forgive yourself. Whether you are on a personal and spiritual growth path or not, love yourself enough to stop beating yourself up. It’s so easy to condemn ourselves. So, yes, take responsibility and apologize. And then, let it go, and focus on doing what you can to prevent a similar situation from happening again. (Work on your personal and spiritual growth.
Putting the Slap in Context
So how do we put Smith’s behavior in context with his spiritual nature? We see him as a human being having a spiritual experience.
I find it easier to feel compassion for others’ behavior if I remind myself that we are all in the same boat…all spiritual beings having human experiences. Sometimes we’re challenged in ways that cause us to act in very un-spiritual but enormously human ways. So, I forgive and have compassion because I might be the one asking for forgiveness and wishing for understanding next time.
If everything happens for a reason, Smith’s slap to Rock’s cheek offers an opportunity to raise our level of consciousness and evolve to the point where we don’t get triggered and react. Instead, we consciously and intentionally choose our responses. And we learn a spiritual lesson: Have compassion for those challenged to act in a manner aligned with their best self.
Have you ever gotten triggered and reacted inappropriately? Tell me about that and how you handled the situation by leaving a comment below. And please share this post with a friend.
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