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On Oscar night, after what’s now being referred to as “the slap”, I posted this to the Men Living page:

So many thoughts …

The idea that a slap to the face is the way to resolve conflict is exactly the opposite of what I believe mature masculinity to be. Anger and every other emotion are important and can be expressed in a healthy way – and an unhealthy way. Will continued to fuel the problem of men’s unhealthy relationship with anger and their use of violence.

I am further disappointed that Will had an opportunity to take responsibility while he was accepting his award for best actor and completely blew that as well.

Meanwhile, the women who won tonight displayed grace and were advocates for a safer & more equitable world. Not a good night for healthy masculinity on Hollywood’s biggest stage. We can do better than this guys. Feeling sad.😔

Not surprisingly, I have received some pushback from some men about this post. Some have claimed that the slap was an example of mature masculinity. I have since had the opportunity to read more about Will Smith’s past trauma, his wife’s medical condition, and so many other perspectives from others.

With all this information, I still know that violence can never be the answer. Healthy masculinity is about knowing when you are triggered, acknowledging the trauma of your past, and choosing differently. It’s about taking a breath and making a choice to stand up in a way that honors you and the people around you. Easier said than done, but it is what we must demand of each other if we want to make changes in this world.

Will Smith is famous and has a wonderful opportunity to influence others through the modeling of non-violent communication. I worry that what we are teaching each other and especially our youth is that slapping someone in the classroom or on the baseball diamond is the way to handle verbal assaults. Will Smith is a grown man. A grown man who has talked about his history, discussed his work around self-awareness, and often shares his goals for being the best husband and father. I admire the man for everything he has done and how he has chosen to share himself with the world. But in this moment, right before he was supposed to receive a long-awaited award, he missed this golden opportunity. He reacted instead of responded. The discipline it takes to pause when triggered is extremely difficult, but it is possible. Look at Chris Rock’s reaction – he was physically assaulted, and he could have reacted with violence, but he didn’t. Even if he was completely in the wrong for disparaging Jada Pinkett Smith, and I believe Chris was, he was able to stop. He responded instead of reacted.

I empathize with everyone involved, and I appreciate Will’s public apology to Chris. His words sound good, but for me actions speak much louder than words. There were many parts of his acceptance speech that I judge failed his moment- it lacked personal responsibility. He stated “I’m being called on in my life to love people…” those words seemed hollow to me in that moment. However, one statement I did appreciate was “we are all a work in progress”. There’s nothing but truth in that statement.

My hope is that the men we are lucky enough to connect with through MenLiving will recognize that they are also “a work in progress”, but that they always have choices. Even in the most difficult and emotional times they can choose to breathe, pause, and then respond. That’s when we show up and become who we want to be.

One Comment

  • Frank says:

    Thanks for the post Todd. I’m finding myself pre-occupied by this incident. On the one hand, with everything going on in the world today, this seems incredibly insignificant, and yet, everywhere you look this is the primary “event” in the news. We went from the conflict in Ukraine dominating the news to this real life Hollywood drama.
    My initial reaction was “why are we sensationalizing this event that happened at the Oscars?” Probably the same reason we sensationalize so much of celebrity life (I found myself taking notice of an article on Kim Kardashian’s new $400,000 custom minivan yesterday). It’s utterly ridiculous. AND, what happened is relevant for these reasons (as I see them):
    – It may be indicative of where things are in this moment – tense, on edge, conflicted
    – It’s complicated. I make up a story that many of us look at a snapshot in time and observe what a person did in a given situation (their actions)
    and make a judgement of that person. “I used to like Will Smith…now this?”
    – People in the spotlight are super scrutinized but it also indicates to me how I scrutinize and judge people on a single incident. If we’re all “works in
    progress” and we recognize this, why is this “single incident judgement casting” so prevelant? Often leading to extensive debate, harsh criticism
    and CANCELLATION of people (not sure if this will happen to Will but it’s happened to others who’ve done far less?
    – Did he react instead of respond? If, in fact, he really would have rather not done what he did then I guess the answer is yes. But, it seems he may
    have also wanted to powerfully advocate for his wife. I by no means advocate for violence. However, I think I can see this conundrum that he
    (and perhaps other men) find themselves in. What IS MY RESPONSE if someone disrepects someone that I love (you can even add “from a mature
    masculine” perspective if you’d like.
    – Man, it was a joke. Made by a comedian who is paid to make jokes – OFTEN AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHER PEOPLE. Have I lost my sense of humor?
    Maybe when I need it most???
    I asked my wife about what she would want and what she would have done had I reacted like Will did. She said “I’d be pissed at you”. Maybe Jada feels the same way. Or, perhaps it was a moment that saved their marriage. I have no idea. My wife also cracked a joke about Will and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I couldn’t laugh. She said “c’mon….it’s funny”. Nothing. Maybe I felt as conflicted as Will did in that moment and afterwards.

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