Was it real?  Did Will Smith really slap Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars?  And why?

Just in case you are the only one who missed it.  Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith’s hair.  She was present in the audience, looking beautiful and with almost no hair.  She has alopecia, a health condition that affects hair growth and has been open about the pain of losing her hair.

Smith got up, approached the stage and appeared to slap the comedian in the face. “Will Smith just slapped the (expletive) out of me,” Rock deadpanned to the audience.

“Keep my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth,” said an angry Smith.

“Wow, dude. It was a ‘G.I. Jane’ joke,” Rock replied.

Yes, it appears it was quite real, since those in the know have said so.  Ramin Setoodeh, covered the Oscars live on Twitter and reported that Will Smith did not appear onstage during rehearsals. Claiming that the altercation “was real,” Setoodeh wrote:

It was also reported that Denzel Washington pulled Smith aside following the shocking moment during the 94th Oscar’s ceremony. Smith then revealed onstage that Washington told him:

At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.”

At one of his highest moments the devil did come for Will Smith.  The devil also came for Chris Rock, in his lack of awareness in telling that particular joke.  It was way over the line of decency, especially given her publicly sharing her personal pain about her medical condition and her hair.

Will Smith is at the peak of his acting career and going strong.  He won an Oscar for Best Actor and Best Picture.  He is one of the mostly highly ranked people in Hollywood right now.  In terms of money, the actor Will Smith has a net worth of $350 million compared to $60 million for the comedian Chris Rock.  And if I know anything about rank, when you have truckloads of it, you can easily become unconscious and overstep your impact on others.  Slapping someone, publicly is a clearly overstepping your impact.  Smith could have been charged with a crime.  He needs to make a public apology to Chris Rock, if he wants to properly clean up his mess.

Comedians are usually not charged with crimes, but what Rock said also deserves a sincere and public apology as well.

Smith remarked, “Love will make you do crazy things.”  I think that is only part of the picture here.  Rank will also make you do crazy things.  It can easily lead to trouble, as it did at the Oscars.

How could he do this?  Partly it was that he felt the joke went way too far and he wanted to defend his wife.  But there was something else, and I believe I know what it was:  the negative impact of unchecked RANK.

I can easily empathize with Smith, since I have done a similar thing, recently.  I “slapped” my own blood brother, even though I am a student of the dangers of rank.

I am a stand-up comedian, when not coaching and training others to communicate better, and am doing a show April 30th in Minneapolis.  My character is a spin off of Fr. Guido Sarducci and is the headliner.   My brother will be doing the music to support the show, a secondary and important role.  As we were planning, we had a spat about the start time of the show.  I had made decisions without consulting him, even though he was leading the music.  It was my high rank that caused me to marginalize his interests and needs.  My inner story was that I just didn’t have time.  The truth was that I enjoy using my power to make decisions and simply did not consider his perspective.  He was rightfully upset with me.   And I am still cleaning up my mess.

When we have high rank, it is quite natural to miss the needs, feelings and perspectives of those we are working with.  And that creates conflict and trouble.  We may want to lash out and even “slap” anyone who thwarts us, offends us or those on our side.  Or we may underuse our rank and let others “slap” us.  Emotional intelligence and power intelligence requires that we widen our lens of perspective and consider those with lower rank.  And when we don’t, we need to listen to their experience, take a deep breath and clean up our messes.