At the 2022 Oscars awards ceremony, Will Smith walked on stage, in front of the world, and smacked Chris Rock in the face and followed up with an expletive-laced tirade.
Smith, adored by millions around the world prior to the Oscars, released his autobiography a few months ago. I was in the middle of listening to his book when the incident occurred. It’s an inspiring story about someone who grew up with fear and pain, and the ups and downs of his journey to Bel Air and beyond.
Below is a sample letter Smith could write (based on what he shared in his autobiography as well applying Inner Excellence principles to his life). It’s an example of what he and the rest of us can learn from what happened on Oscars night.
I want to share with you a little bit about what led to my actions at the Oscars.
I grew up with a father who was physically abusive to my mother. He terrified me. One of the most painful memories of my life is when he hit my mom so hard she was bleeding and badly hurt. I felt like I should have stopped him and I didn’t.
There were many instances where I was too afraid to act when I should have. My childhood was marked by being ashamed of myself for not standing up for what was right, especially when I stood by when dad punched my mom.
My greatest shame was that I was a coward.
Over the years I learned that humor and rap music could be my escape, as well as acceptance. I practiced lyrics hours on end, chasing a dream.
Ultimately I achieved extraordinary success but I was still unhappy. I hired a coach and therapist and went to retreats to find myself. What I was not able to do, as the world saw on Oscar’s night, was heal the pain of shame from my childhood.
What I thought I was was doing when I hit you was being a man. I thought I was defending my family, which I will do to the day I die. I desperately want to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to love those who need love like I did and do.
What I’ve realized since the evening that I hit you was that what I thought it took to be a man and what it really does are worlds apart.
Here’s a few things I’ve (thankfully) realized:
- My physiological reaction to the situation was so strong, I was unable to control my emotions, and consequently, my actions. As I shared in Chapter 11, when I first got going with the hit tv show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, there was an incident where I felt 100% certain a TV executive was going to attack me physically. He was circling me and verbally threatening. I was ready to defend myself or punch him first if need be. Turns out he was a 64 year old dude who just had back surgery and couldn’t sit down. It’s amazing how skewed your vision can become when you see the present through a lens of the past. (This sounds like Inner Excellence but it’s a direct quote from Will).
- What someone says negatively about others reflects mostly who THEY are, not who they’re talking about. A high awareness person sees a person’s potential and greatest attributes; a low awareness person sees their own flaws (what they hate about themselves) in the other person.
- Everyone does the best they can, in every moment, with what’s in their heart. That means that in the moment I hit you, that was the best that I had in my heart. That doesn’t make it right, but it does show that what was in my heart at that moment was wounded and fearful.
- A real man continually strives to walk in love not fear; is always seeking to learn and grow in love, wisdom and courage.
- A real man seeks to empower others, rather than have power over others.
- A man’s character is displayed by how he responds to adversity. When we join in other’s negativity, we lose our freedom, our flow, and our purpose.
- When we’re squeezed, what’s in our hearts comes out. Oscars night I had a flashback to the fear and shame of childhood (squeezed) and not wanting to be a coward again, I became violent. What was in my heart was a wound that hadn’t been healed, and your words were too much for me to handle.
There’s so much more I could say and I have so much to learn. With all these realizations, part of that is realizing how cowardly my actions were. I know words are powerful (they incited me to lose control), but I also know an apology would only be part of what a real man would do. So, first of all, I am truly sorry for hitting you and hope you can forgive me.
What I did was incredibly damaging to you, your family, to the Oscar’s, and to all those who’ve been hurt by violence around the world.
Here’s how I’m going to start, but if you’re willing, I’d love to hear what possible next steps I can do to make things right, or at least do the best that I can going forward.
- I’m donating $1m to Futures Without Violence non-profit organization.
- I’m donating $1m to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
- I’m donating $1m to your charity (of choice).
In many ways I’m just beginning this journey of understanding the human heart, especially the fears and wounds of my own.
Once again I’m truly sorry and I know I can’t undo what I did but I hope you’ll help me continue to learn and grow and help others do the same. You’re a truly talented person Please forgive me.
Sincerely, Willard C. Smith II