Will Smith’s Legacy Is Tainted — And We Need To Talk About Anger

Originally published on MSN.com - March 30, 2022

Will Smith apologized on Monday to Chris Rock for shocking the Hollywood community and Oscars' global audience with his slap heard 'round the world.

If you — somehow — missed the news, Smith felt so offended by Rock’s joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s short haircut, the result of alopecia, Smith leaped onto the stage and slapped the comedian and then cursed him from his seat.

Leaving everyone reeling from this behavior, Smith received the Academy Award for Best Actor later in the program and apologized to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences during his acceptance speech, but not initially to Rock.

Fortunately, Smith did issue a comprehensive apology to Rock the next day, though at the time of publishing, Rock has not apologized to Pinkett-Smith for the hurtful attempt at a joke about her hair loss.

Will Smith and Chris Rock's History Of Conflict and Past Traumatic Events
The original tension between Smith and Rock reportedly began in 2016 when Rock’s jokes about Jada and Will offended Smith. Yet, there are many aspects of this event to consider, including the work Smith says that he has done to evolve his emotions, the progress he's made in treating anger, and the huge impact that MeToo has had on everyone, most powerfully seen in Hollywood, which is always ahead of the curve on social justice.

This week, Will Smith’s career has taken a giant hit; bigger than the one Smith landed on Chris Rock’s face.

While there is no comparison between these men's crimes and offenses and the slap Smith delivered to Rock on Sunday night, we may consider the cases of disgraced stars Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, or others who were knocked by scandal off the A-List. Based on those examples, there actually is a limit to bad behavior.

Hollywood is traditionally generous in forgiving its own, but some celebrities have weighed in, such as former NBA player and social activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in condemning Smith's choice. It all
leaves us to wonder where this slap will land either of these celebrities over time.

The Cause of Explosive Rage
In the days following the Oscars, we learned that both Will Smith and Chris Rock were victimized by repeated bullying and threats during their childhoods. As an expert in PTSD, I work with people who have developed PTSD from bullying and from military service, often causing the same PTSD symptoms.

It was reported that Will Smith’s father was extremely violent toward his mother and that Chris Rock was repeatedly bullied as a child. Yet, what does that change in the here and now?

Do we give Smith a pass for “defending his wife’s honor," which was the case he attempted to make when he later won the Best Actor’s Oscar for his performance as Richard Williams in “King Richard,” about Serena and Venus Williams’ father?

No matter what explanations Will provides, do we care? Or is it finally time for zero tolerance with rage? Is it finally time that we identify people who suffer from their inability to self-soothe and manage their tempers? In our #MeToo morality, is there room for someone who is physically or mentally volatile and

The Cure Requires More Than 'Anger Management'
Smith has stated on Instagram, "Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night's Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. … There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.“

The problem with his mea culpa is the timing. Smith’s apology occurred AFTER the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences launched an official inquiry into the incident. It came AFTER he gave his acceptance speech as Best Actor, during which he had the presence of mind to apologize to the members of the Academy that had awarded him Hollywood’s highest honor.

Working with clients for the last 22 years, I have found that the most common denominator to most family problems is anger. Yet, if we choose to, each of us can learn to control our moods and our behaviors with professional assistance.

For those with severe brain chemistry challenges as we see with former soldiers, there are safe meds that allow millions to live safe, peaceful lives. People can be connected to health care experts who specialize in these solutions and the results are consistently excellent and the solutions provided are affordable. There is no reason at all that Will Smith has not already solved his anger issues because he has the financial resources to hire the best experts and to purchase the best products, all available in Southern California.

For some people who suffer from rage, the first step may be to examine choices we are making and see if they are supportive of a peaceful, healthy lifestyle.

Whether the rumors of the Smith’s open marriage are true or not, can you imagine the stress for celebrities whose every move is reported again and again? After a while, it's natural for even the
most loving, trusting partner to wonder about the truth of these rumors, particularly during months of separation when each partner is filming in different cities or countries.

The public may look at the wealth, fame and beauty of Hollywood celebrities and believe that they live magical lives. However, their divorce rate can give you pause.

The tremendous toll that jealousy takes and the tragic yet frequent occurrences of rage are the cause of countless murders and we need to consider that rage is never a safe option. Rage can be alleviated and eliminated with self-full contemplation yet that can take decades of maturity before one is able to shake it off.

Some theorize that anger is actually an addiction and the more we allow ourselves to feel angry, the more our brain replicates the brain cells that are addicted to anger in the identical way that brain cells can become addicted to behaviors such as unsafe sex or gambling. (For a brilliant demonstration of this, please watch the film “What the Bleep Do We Know” and pay attention to the wedding scene.) What are the actual options for Will Smith now that this public meltdown has occurred? Here is a real solution that few people understand. Traditional anger management courses are about selfcontrol, which is far less effective than the elimination of the cause of rage: brain chemistry.

The Power of Self-soothing
Everyone with anger issues needs to notice the story in their head and learn to transform that story FAST so that there is no longer a compulsion toward violence. Every story has a more peaceful,
powerful turnaround. Once we see again and again that we are telling a story and that the story is an exaggeration or even a lie, we begin to lose the addiction to anger.

A Look at Brain Chemistry
For people whose brain chemistry prevents them from meeting society’s demands for peaceful behavior, changing one’s brain chemistry is far more desirable than police involvement.

Luckily for Will Smith, Chris Rock declined his option to call the police after the attack. Whether Rock will sue Smith is still TBD. Making amends is a huge value after a shocking occurrence as long as it is 100% sincere and the behavior is never, ever repeated. To avoid repetition, it is essential that a qualified expert trains the man or woman who has been violent; a simple promise is always empty and cannot be accepted. Only a professional counselor or therapist can help someone heal the addiction to rage.

Communication and The Six-Part Conversation
What is the most valuable step that you can take if you have experienced violence or observed your children or family members in this situation?

I once used my language skills to avoid being murdered; to avoid being shot at point-blank range. Language is truly the most powerful option we have.

Arguing will not save you. Complaining will not save you. Empathy for the pain of the person who is rage-filled in the moment is a solution that has saved millions of lives and it requires a lot of skills and practice long before any potentially violent event.

Susan Allen is a certified Mediator and communication expert.