Will Smith’s Slap Shows Us the Importance of Self-Control

The Slap that was heard around the world

Marcia Sirota
6 min readApr 6, 2022

I don’t think anybody anywhere hasn’t at least heard about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscar ceremonies on Sunday, March 27th. It was a shocking thing to witness at the time and it has left many of us thinking about the implications of Will Smith’s actions.

First of all, I want to say that I think Chris Rock’s joke at the expense of Jada Pinkett Smith was in extremely poor taste. The theory of comedy is that you should always punch up, but in picking on Jada Smith’s disability, Chris Rock was clearly punching down. That is simply cruel and unnecessary, especially in the context of such a huge platform as the Oscars ceremony.

It’s understandable that Jada Pinkett Smith would be offended by Chris’ joke and it’s even more understandable that her husband, Will Smith would not like it. However, the cameras were on Will Smith’s face after Chris Rock made the joke and he was clearly chuckling. Then, the cameras turned to Jada Pinkett Smith’s face and she was clearly frowning at her husband’s reaction. It makes me wonder if Will Smith’s behaviour after that stemmed from overcompensating and trying to prove to his wife that he was a good husband.

Source: Pexels.com

Self-control is an essential adult function

Over the years as a psychotherapist, I have learned that most of the time, adults are capable of controlling their urges and impulses. As we grow up, our adult identity is strengthened and we are able to think before we act and consider the consequences of our behaviour in advance. Some of us, however, have more difficulty in doing so.

People with addictions struggle to control their urges and impulses because they have emotional or physiological dependencies on certain substances or behaviours. Some people have severe personality disorders, and these individuals are rarely in control of their impulses. As a result, they get into a lot of trouble in their lives.

Some people who have mental health issues occasionally lose control of their impulses and can do things that are embarrassing to themselves or hurtful to others. These people are unwell and although they don’t want to behave this way, occasionally, they find it very difficult to avoid it.

Source: Pexels.com

Being a healthy adult means controlling our impulses

Healthy adults with an intact ego tend to have pretty good impulse control. We might have thoughts about doing something; we might even have a strong urge to do it, but we resist it because we know that it is not appropriate or healthy and we know that there might be consequences to us if we act on this impulse.

However, even the most healthy adult with the most intact ego can occasionally lose control. This would happen under very specific circumstances in which the individual is either under a lot of stress or they are in a weakened state; for example, if they are ill or injured or extremely afraid.

It could happen if someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or has some type of brain disorder such as dementia or delirium. It could also happen if the person is suffering from deep shame or guilt because these kinds of strong emotions can be disinhibiting.

The Oscars are an extremely stressful environment, especially if you are up for an award. Perhaps Will Smith was not at his best to begin with because of the circumstances. And then, add in the possibility of his shame about laughing at Chris Rock’s joke in front of his wife and you can see how he was set up to react impulsively.

It’s possible that the combination of his stress around being an Oscar nominee and his desire to prove himself a good husband led him to taking extreme action toward Chris Rock. Even so, he should never have behaved this way.

Source: Pexels.com

There is never any excuse for a violent response

My opinion is that there is never, ever any excuse for a violent response to someone else’s bad behaviour. The only time that violence is appropriate is in self-defence when our safety or our lives are threatened, or if the safety or lives of our loved ones are threatened. Clearly, Will Smith and his family were under no threat when Chris Rock made that extremely tasteless joke.

I think that Will Smith could have handled the situation in a much better manner. If he had been chuckling at the joke and then his wife got upset with him, he could have taken her aside and apologised to her, and acknowledged that he was being insensitive. He could have said that the stress of being nominated for an Oscar had made him less attuned to her feelings and he could have promised to make amends.

Will Smith could have indicated his disapproval and displeasure to Chris Rock by shaking his head when he heard the joke. He could have said something later, whether during his acceptance speech or at the press conference following the award. He could have made a statement on Instagram expressing his displeasure at Chris Rock’s joke. What he never should have done was resort to violence. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Photographer: Matthias Wagner | Source: Unsplash

Comedians now are frightened about being assaulted over their jokes

Ever since the Oscars, people have been saying that when Will Smith hit Chris Rock over a joke he found offensive it has given permission to other people to assault comedians over jokes they don’t like. This is a very dangerous precedent. I sincerely hope that we will not see other instances of violence toward comedians who say things that people consider to be distasteful.

We should never respond with violence to things that bother us. We are grown-ups, we are intelligent, and we can use our words. I wish that Will Smith had been able to use his words at the Oscars. And I hope that in general, people start using their words when they get upset at something another person says or does.

Chris Rock has not yet come out publicly to express his thoughts on this matter. I would hope that he would apologise sincerely to Ms. Smith for his hurtful remarks. We should never pick on people who have a disability. That is simply unacceptable. His joke about Jada Pinkett Smith opens the door for other comedians to attack those who are suffering from some type of flaw in their appearance.

I would hope that Chris Rock recognizes that picking on women around their appearance and especially picking on women of colour around their appearance is not what our society needs right now. In 2022, isn’t it finally time to stop attacking women over how they look?

On the other hand, I do feel that the way Chris Rock responded to the assault on him at the Oscars was very classy and I hope he can continue to be classy when he finally speaks out on the matter.

Photographer: Ümit Bulut | Source: Unsplash

Will Smith’s behaviour demonstrates the need to always stay mindful

Will Smith reacting with violence to a joke in poor taste shows us that anyone is capable of losing control of their impulses. It shows us how important it is for us to stay grounded and mindful even in the most stressful of situations.

People might occasionally say things to us that are deeply offensive; circumstances that we’re in might be extremely stressful, and we might not be at our very best in the moment. However, we are all responsible for keeping our impulses in check, regardless of how angry, offended, frightened or stressed we feel. After all, isn’t that what it means to be an adult?


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Marcia Sirota

Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series