Will Smith, Chris Rock and Managing Anger

Oscars night, 2022, Los Angeles

Chris Rock, presenting the ___ award:  Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.

Will Smith: (Walk over to Chris Rock and slaps him).

In a parallel universe, where the outcome would have been better….

During a commercial break. Will Smith walks over to Chris Rock.

Will Smith: Hey Chris. Can we talk in private? I need to talk with you about the jokes you just made.

(Chris walks with Will to a private, quiet area)

Chris Rock: Sure Will. What’s up?

Will: Listen; I don’t appreciate the joke you just made. It was hurtful to Jada, me and the 147 million people in the world that suffer from Alopecia.

Chris: It’s just a joke. I’m a comedian. That’s what comedians do, tell jokes.  And what’s Appalachia? By the way, why are you speaking on behalf of your wife and 147 million people?

Will: Seriously? Are you acting funny again? Alopecia. An autoimmune condition where the immune systems attacks hair follicles and results in hair loss.  You’re right, I can’t speak for Jada but she is upset and so am I. And so, I guess I’m speaking more for myself. And, as far as the 147 million people; well, I guess we performers are role models for better or worse and I think here’s an opportunity for us to be role models here. The 147 million people suffering from Alopecia aren’t here but you and I are here and though you are a comedian, I think you crossed a line.

Chris: Uh, I had no idea Jada had Alopecia.

Will: You had no idea she had Alopecia? Well, listen; At first, I wanted to get up and walk up on stage and take my anger out on you by smacking you in the face. But, I thought better of it. I’m sure it would have felt good for a brief moment but maybe the end result would not have been good for either of us.

Chris: Uh, thanks for not doing that, I guess. So, what do you want me to do now? I don’t even think most folks will get the joke because G.I. Jane came out like 25 years ago.

Will: Look, that’s beside the point, I just want you to understand. And maybe, apologize.  

Chris: Ok, I think I understand why you’re upset. But, what if I don’t want to apologize? It’s my job to make people laugh. People laughed.  

Will (taking a deep breath): Well, I can’t control what you say or do, but now at least you know how I feel.    


The great philosopher Aristotle once said,

“Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.”

We all get angry. One reason we get angry is because folks don’t live up to our expectations of what they should do or say in certain moments.  Anger is part of life. What we do with that anger though is what makes a world of difference. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’d admit we all get angry, and that sometimes we overreact.

Now, in the spirit of honesty, I’d be lying if part of me didn’t (at first) grin seeing Chris Rock being held accountable for his comments. Part of me would have paid for front row tickets to witness that moment in person. The joke was, in my mind, insensitive. But then, the higher (should I say, more evolved part of me) realizes that perhaps a real learning moment was lost and that even my own initial reaction was not the best. And so, I imagine that that alternate reality above, of the dialogue between Rock and Smith.

I’ll be the first to admit that it is easy to sit back and pronounce who is right or wrong and who should have said what. But ultimately, for me, the real question is “what can I do to manage my own anger?” Perhaps, the “alternative reality” above is more a script for me and what I would hope I would do in such a situation.

To be clear, managing our anger doesn’t excuse or justify the behavior that triggers that anger. Managing anger is about staying in control, and instead of reacting to the moment, responding to it. It is about being aware of our emotions, and the reasons for those feelings, and choosing to act in a manner that is more effective.

Numerous books have been written on the topic but one technique that I’ve found effective in managing anger, rage, and “saltiness,” - whatever we call that emotion - is the 90-second rule as explained by neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor. In short, whenever we react to a trigger around us, a chemical reaction, almost like a tidal wave, happens within us that lasts about 90 seconds. After that, the chemicals that have primed us for fight or flight actually get flushed out of our system.

If we want to allow that chemical tidal wave of emotion to go through us, we need to simply breathe during that wave of emotion and allow the chemicals to run their course. Just observing what we are feeling and noting, what we are experiencing, will help activate our pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain that helps us make better decisions. So truly – when we are triggered, just breathing and observing what we are feeling can make a world of difference.

If you want to explore how we can better manage anger, join the University Ombuds Office on Wednesday April 27th as we explore how better to avoid conflict by managing anger. Check the VTxDaily for more information.