Everything we do in life, everything we experience, is a chance to learn and grow. When we automatically jump to the conclusion we must “cancel” that thing, that person, that idea, we miss out on a valuable opportunity. Picking and choosing what we want from history does not change the fact that something happened the way it did . . . good or bad. Refusing to listen to another viewpoint does not make that opinion go away. Refusing to showcase an actor’s or musician’s work because he or she voiced an opposing political opinion, or behaves personally in an unacceptable manner, deprives us of the chance to enjoy a true talent. Erasing the bad often erases the good, as well.
A little over a week ago we woke to the “slap heard round the world”. In a fit of anger, actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock in front of a live worldwide audience of millions. All due to a poorly delivered joke that offended him and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Those who didn’t see it live have been treated to the video replay numerous times on the television and social media. The world was shocked and horrified. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone defend him, although a select group of friends have been kind in their attempts to help him.
Assaulting Chris Rock was unacceptable. The police who came and spoke with the victim described it legally as “battery”. Chris Rock refused to prosecute. Will Smith apologized to the audience, and to the Academy, during his acceptance speech later. He apologized to the Academy separately. He apologized to Chris Rock. He apologized to his family and to all who were affected by his bad behavior. He resigned his membership in the Academy and has said he will accept whatever punishment they decide upon.
Apparently, for some, this is not enough. There are calls for his movies to be pulled from streaming services. Some people are speculating that his career is over. This, when not even an hour after the incident, he was announced the winner of an Oscar for best actor for his performance in “King Richard”. His standing ovation infuriated those who want his award revoked.
There’s the argument that our children saw this behavior and if we don’t act swiftly, they’ll come to the conclusion that bad behavior is all right if you’re a celebrity. I agree, but canceling someone’s life work is not the answer. Parents, use this opportunity to sit down and talk about what happened with your children. Explain to them that celebrities like Will Smith are just like the rest of us. They are not infallible. They are not gods. They are human beings who make mistakes, and it’s how they respond to their mistakes that define them. Will Smith acted on impulse and realized quickly after what a mistake that was. Haven’t we all been there at least once in our lives? I know I have been . . . many times more than once. Ask your children if this has ever happened to them? Were they forgiven? Or were they canceled, never allowed to make amends?
It’s time we start teaching our children what it means to forgive, how freeing it can be personally to not pass judgment on another and/or hold a grudge. I would guess that Will Smith has a very real personal problem he’s dealing with and I’d ask that we all give him the space to work his way through it.
Now, for those whose bad behavior led to success in their accomplishments, that’s a totally different discussion.