The Tragedy of Will Smith
By Guy Shepherd

The cost of sanctimony is taking responsibility for your screw-ups. Talking to you, Will Smith.

The Tragedy of Will Smith


When Will Smith put on his honorable-man costume and slapped Chris Rock , the costume malfunctioned for all the world to see

...because there's no such thing as 'justifiable hypocrisy.'

The most telling and true moments in Will Smith’s Oscar acceptance speech were not his own.  They were from fellow best-actor nominee, Denzel Washington: “At your highest moment, be careful.  That is when the devil comes for you.”

Washington said this to Smith in the aftermath of Smith walking up on stage mid-ceremony, with his hands down, and then striking comedian Chris Rock in the face for the world to see. 


Before we go further into Will Smith’s behavior, it’s worth commenting on Chris Rock’s.   

Chris Rock deserves an Academy Award for grace under fire.  He did his best to defuse the situation and the show went on.  As far as the joke goes, what woman, in her right mind, would be insulted by being compared to Demi Moore? If you look at the tape, even Smith laughed in the moment. And by the way, Will Smith would lack the testicular fortitude to do his to comedian Joe Rogan. 


As far as apologies go, Smith failed the Shepherd family’s four-step approach to forgiveness and ethical living.  Here they are:  

  1. Fuck Up,
  2. Fess Up, 
  3. Figure It Out, 
  4. Forgive.

1. Fuck Up: To fuck up is to be human. It gets us quickly to a deep, fundamental truth that Alexander Pope’s comment that “to err is human” just doesn’t reach.  We are capable of some really dark, fallen, selfish, prideful shit.. That’s why Pope added, “to forgive, divine.” 

Will Smith’s performance at the Oscars is an award-winning display of The Tragedy of Will Smith.  All his talk of spiritual clarity, alignment of himself with God, and love, and being a “river of his people” is exposed as a veneer for a narcissist who is need of some spiritual healing.

Does Will Smith think of himself as human?  I don’t think so. He may however think of himself as divine.

This first step is going to the hardest for him.

“At your highest moment, be careful.  That is when the devil comes for you.”

2. Fess Up: this is the hard one to swallow for the proud, who find themselves in “error.”  To fess up is to take ownership of your bad behavior—the act, the choice and its consequences.

A good “fess up” cannot have “but” in it.  I’m sorry, but but is the opposite of a fess up.  It’s a self-righteous rationalization that your apology’s recipient ought to see as a trigger. 

 How did Will’s Oscar acceptance speech and apology fare?  Let’s take a look: 

But Richard Williams, and what I loved, thank you D.  Denzel (Washington) said to me a few minutes ago, he said, ‘At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.’”

His fess up starts with a “But”—and then he miraculously remembers and repeats what Denzel told him moments before—and then he returns to but-ing himself out of it.

 What followed was not a fess up.  Not only did he slap Chris Rock in the face, Smith also slapped Richard Williams and the Williams family.

“Art imitates life. …I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams.  But love will make you do crazy things.”

There is that but again.   But love will make you do crazy things.” Obviously, Will, since the source of your uncontrollable display is self-love.   

The day after his apology-by-press release to Chris Rock was not without its own but blemish:

“Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally,” Smith wrote.  I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong.”

A sorry-not-sorry display.

3. Figure It Out: Taking ownership of a fuck-up comes with addressing the consequences. If you make a mess, it’s your responsibility to clean it up. Out of self-respect and respect for those whose forgiveness you seek, you need to make amends.

Will, you need to get some help:  My recommendation is that you ask Denzel to find someone for you, and separate yourself from The Church of Will.  

King Richard prepared his daughters for life at the top. Part of the “Plan” was to morally prepare them to handle greatness at the highest level.  King Richard succeeded.  You succeed in telling that story.  At the Academy Awards, you showed the world, that you are unprepared for this stage of your life.  

I think you and your people, need to sit down, with Chris Rock and his people and come up with a win/win resolution to the mess of your making.  Chris Rock has shown himself as a bigger man a bigger man.  He could have charged you with assault, with the world as his witness of your Jussie Smollett performance of manliness. 

Chris Rock could have charged you with assault, with the world as his witness of your Jussie Smollett performance of manliness.

Chris Rock will be forever known as the guy that Will Smith bitch-slapped in the face with the world watching.  You owe Chris Rock restitution.  He doesn’t need your money, but this “river to your people” does.  It’s estimated that you are worth $350 million. Work it out with Chris—and think about bringing in Denzel—and come up with a real number and make a gift to the charity of Chris Rock’s choice that benefits your people.

Also, man up and take what you gave with the same grace that Chris Rock displayed. Put yourself out there.  Stand up, cameras running, world watching. and take what you gave, and then deliver the lines that King Richard gave to his daughters who failed to understand that the lesson of Cinderella was modesty.

4. Forgive: Follow these first three steps, and you will get the forgiveness that your ego and career craves, but for the right reasons. 

Will, Give it a try. I promise it will make you a better guy!


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