Were you taught as a child, when upset, to “use your words” instead of hitting? There are a lot of opinions on what “coulda shoulda” happened a week ago at the Academy Awards. For those who haven’t heard this well-worn saga, here’s what went down:

The host, comedian Chris Rock, made a joke about actress Jada Pinkett-Smith’s hairstyle. Presuming the stunning actress chose to wear her hair shaved short as a fashion style, Rock joked that he looked forward to seeing her in “GI Jane II,” referencing the role played by Demi Moore in the “GI Jane” movie. Unbeknownst to Rock, Pinkett-Smith suffers from a medical condition, alopecia, which causes hair loss.

Pinkett-Smith and husband Will Smith were seated in the front row of the audience. Smith got up, slapped host Rock in the face, and returned to his seating yelling, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f****** mouth.” (Link below.)

Public debate on social media immediately ensued. Some say Rock should not have made the insensitive joke. Others say he didn’t know the actress had alopecia and did what comedians are expected to do – make jokes.

Some say Will Smith was appropriately standing up for and defending his wife, and that Rock got off easy with just a slap. Others say his wife “made him do it,” and therefore she is at fault.

Here’s my take: Don’t hit people unless defending yourself or others from physical harm. The Smith couple were seated right in front, feet from the stage. Will Smith COULD have used his words instead.

So, here’s how it COULD have gone down, had better judgment prevailed, with all onlookers around the globe have learned something:

Will Smith (standing up from his front-row seat, utilizing his cerebral cortex, the judgment area, of his human brain): “Man, that was totally uncool— my wife has alopecia! That’s offensive!”

Chris Rock (mortified by his error): “Ohhhhhhh! I’m am so sorry! I didn’t know! Jada, I’m an idiot, and you are beautiful! GI Jane is a cool, beautiful role, but I see how stupid my joke was!

Jada Pinkerton-Smith (if still upset, assuming a serious tone) “We’ll talk later, Chris!”

It could have been a moment of humility, resilience, and strength of character. An emotional, very human moment tempered by restraint while choosing to speak up for others, for all the world to witness. And a chance to learn about alopecia and baldness.

And that would have been a fairly constructive Oscar moment.

If we all practiced restraint and intelligence we’d get in the habit of making things better.

To his credit, Smith, who went on to win Best Actor that night, later published an open apology:

“I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness. I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees, and everyone watching around the world.”

Regardless of what consequences may befall Smith, I hope all of the players in this saga find some healing.

“Such power there is in clear-eyed self-restraint.” –James Russell Lowell

Video © CBS Evening News and The Oscar Awards (ABC).

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