Will Smith’s Slap: What in Society Allowed It to Happen, and How Do We Fix It?
Ok, I hate to jump on the Will Smith bandwagon, but my staff and others encouraged me that what I had to share was sufficiently insightful and important to write a blog. It’s also a bit longer than usual, but it’s important.
Let’s take a brief stroll together. You won’t be disappointed.
In my recent book, “The Art of Quality Decision Making,” I point out, ad-nauseum, how important it is to name a thing in order to understand it. I used the example of Isaac Newton. Newton didn’t discover gravity. Babies are aware of gravity from the moment they start to crawl and try to stand.
I remember a time at a local park on a crisp, fall, windswept day when my youngest daughter (now 27) was just learning to walk. My wife and I watched her teeter and totter her way up a small rise to the base of an old, bare oak. She was so proud of herself until she started the trek down, which ended up with her, as us old-timers like to say, head over tea kettle. I said out loud to no one in particular, “Jessica, meet gravity. Gravity, say hello to Jessica.”
All Newton did was name gravity, which ultimately changed the trajectory of science. Who could have imagined that a falling leaf, the ocean tides, orbits of the planets, path of spaceships, movements of galaxies, and the trajectory of a baseball were all governed by the same force? Newton didn’t discover anything. What he did was far more profound – he named it, and from the name, came hundreds of connections never before imagined.
Naming it changed the world.
It’s no different than when you go to a doctor. The first thing the doctor does is examine you and run tests, trying to put a specific name to your malady so they understand, specifically, how to treat it, and get you back on the road to health.
Come with me as we take on the daunting task of trying to determine what’s largely wrong with America today, and how to fix it.
Will Smith’s swipe at Chris Rock was the manifestation of something that I see plaguing our current environment. It’s far more insidious than “toxic masculinity” or any racial or other issues bantered around the media. They all miss the mark. This illness, like Covid, is an equal opportunity infection, bridging race, culture, age, intellect, and social and economic status.
It is responsible for the increasing division in the United States. It’s responsible for the growth of the cancel culture, as well as the big lie and January 6. The far left and far right are infected with it. And many of us suffer from it now and again.
Here it comes:
MISGUIDED RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION (MRI)
I’m sure you’ve heard of righteous indignation, and I struggled to find a good definition, but I like this one, “Confident of one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.” I simply tacked on the “misguided” portion (you’re welcome).
Will Smith felt that his hurt feelings, or his wife’s perceived hurt feelings, warranted his response. What else would have motivated him to act in such a reckless manner in such a public venue? And then to put an exclamation point at the end of his Misguided Righteous Indignations (MRI) when extolling Richard William’s love of his family and saying, “Love makes you do crazy things.”
I have a controversial chapter in my book called, “Your feelings aren’t your friends” and Smith’s behavior exemplifies why. Your feelings, or mine, or anyone else’s, simply do not justify poor behavior – particularly when that behavior harms someone else.
The subtitle of my book is, “A practical guide to the Alternative Response Method,” which is my consulting firm aimed at helping individuals and organizations develop strategic methods for making decisions.
Will Smith, had he been a student of ARM, would have found an Alternative Response to the anger and rage behind his MRI. He would have understood that our feelings can, and will, often lead us to bad decisions, even though the feelings “make us crazy.”
Perhaps he would have reached for the cure. Read on kind reader. We’re almost there.
Having thought about this and all things related to decision-making for decades, I finally derived the cure while on a road trip to consult on a project at Rideau Hall in Canada last year. I have had the pleasure of traveling through Canada on two different camping trips with my wife and three daughters. We all agreed that there was just a different feel, a different vibe, if you will, to being in Canada. For example, while pulling our 30’ camper with my 19’ Suburban, when I signaled to change lanes, cars would slow down and let you in rather than speed up to keep you out. They were polite and deferential on a consistent basis that was just… different.
I came up with a label for this different behavior:
PREPONDERANCE OF KINDNESS (POK)
We all know what kindness is. Preponderance simply means make something more. More of a priority. More present. In this case, I would argue, POK is the path to a better life and better society overall.
POK is not some vague, abstract concept of kindness like rainbows and unicorns; it is an imperative. It calls us out; it challenges us, and it requires us to behave in a certain, highly specific manner: To be, first and foremost, kind.
It requires us to modify our attitude of looking and waiting for someone to make a mistake, so we can revel and luxuriate in MRI. Instead, it instills in us that our first, knee-jerk response to a situation is one of kindness.
I know. Easy to say, hard to do.
But I won’t leave you stranded. There are many tools within ARM, but I will leave you with one of my favorites.
The exact quote is, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” I’ve modified it with an eye towards POK, and when I think of it, I replace stupidity with ignorance, so that my modified version reads:
“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by ignorance.”
I’d like to think that if Will Smith had read my book, or been a practitioner of ARM, he might have given Chris Rock the benefit of the doubt. He might have understood that Rock wasn’t being malicious, but simply doing his job. He might have thought that Rock was simply ignorant that his comment would deeply offend either of the Smiths, and perhaps, after the show, he might have gone up to Rock and kindly explained how Rock’s monologue made him and his wife feel.
Ironically, had Smith been a student of ARM or read my book, he wouldn’t have needed to do anything other than enjoy the show and revel in his extraordinary accomplishment. Those familiar with my book and the concepts within ARM don’t need the approval or input from others in order to navigate a blissful, successful, and robust path forward in all of life’s myriad dimensions. We are not so easily rattled by the behaviors of others.
I’m going to end here with encouragement for you to please do the following:
- Share this blog. I hope you’ll agree that the concepts here are important, and worth sharing.
- Really think about Misguided Righteous Indignation. Look for it when watching your favorite news show (where there is no place for it). Listen for it in conversations around you, and, most importantly, don’t embrace it. Those feelings of MRI are likely not, what we like to call in ARM, decisional and never in your best interest.
- Lastly, when you take offense to something, apply Hanon’s Razor to it. You will be amazed at how many issues that normally made you angry or hurt simply evaporate.
For more on ARM, download a sample chapter here.