I Will Survive

Will Smith Flipped His Lid

I watched the chaotic incident with Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards and, like many people around the world, was stunned at what had just transpired. Was it part of the act, or something more? From a place of transparency, I love Will Smith.  I think he is a great actor. More importantly, I perceive him to be a fine human being — a man of character and integrity.  I also don’t particularly enjoy Chris Rock’s comedy. 

Let me start from the beginning.  During the Academy Awards broadcast, in a moment of emotional dysregulation, Will Smith, reacting to a joke by Chris Rock, walked on stage and slapped him. The joke was a reference to his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who shaved her head late last year after struggling with alopecia. After taking his seat, Smith continued to berate Rock shouting at him to “Keep my wife’s name out of your f-king mouth.”  Will Smith essentially “flipped his lid”. This is an American slang expression and implies a metaphor of a pot boiling over and knocking off its cover.

We all have moments when we flip our lid. It is part of being human and manifests when we feel attacked or threatened. Our rational brain shuts down, our emotions take over and we experience an amygdala hijack. Was Will Smith justified in his actions as he went to bat for his wife?  Did Chris Rock go too far with his “G.I. Jane 2” joke?  People are passionately divided in their opinions. I offer my perspective.

Earlier in the show, one of the hosts, Regina Hall, joked about Will and Jada’s open relationship saying his wife had approved it. I think this comment unnerved Smith and he felt attacked.  So, when Rock made what I consider an innocuous comment in the scheme of things, it was like the straw that broke Will’s back and he reacted violently, out of proportion.  And can you imagine if Chris Rock would have reacted in kind and slapped Will Smith right back? Thank goodness, he showed some restraint. The story of the 94th Academy Awards has become the story of the slap. Not the story of the thousands of people associated with the awards showcasing their life’s work who deserved their moment of recognition.

My disappointment is that Will Smith could have made this right when he took to the stage to receive his Best Actor award for his role in King Richard, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. In his tearful address, he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees but did not apologize to Chris Rock. He explained his actions as one of defending his family by saying “Love will make you do crazy things”.  Rather than justifying his actions, how much more powerful would it have been if he would have used his platform to say that he did not appreciate the comedian’s joke about his wife but that did not give him the license to do what he did? What if he would have taken accountability for his actions? What if he would have humbly asked everyone to not focus on this one incident, because the Oscars are about the thousands of people who celebrate their craft?  I think it would have allowed people, regardless of the side they were on, to move forward.

I am a leadership development consultant and I teach people about emotional intelligence and strategies to manage their emotions effectively. Sometimes my clients tell me that when they go to work, they leave their emotions at the door. This is not possible to do because we are emotional creatures and if we suppress our emotions, we act them out.  Emotional intelligence is about being able to understand and manage our own emotions and recognize the emotions of other people. And these skills are important whether you are a manager, a spouse, a parent or a child. One way I manage my emotions when I feel attacked is to pause for 6 seconds and take a deep breath, label what I’m feeling and think about how I want to show up in this situation. Waiting 6 seconds before responding to a situation when triggered allows one to respond to the situation, rather than reacting to it.  6 seconds is the minimum amount of time required to put emotions on hold when confronted with an escalating situation.

We all flip our lids on occasion. It is very human to feel angry. It’s just such a shame that this happened in public by a dynamic and globally-recognized actor who could have used his platform to show how to handle a challenging situation with grace.

Discovering the little things

As we spend time with Mos Malik and Amaal Noor, it is fascinating to us how they will focus on the little things. Give them a toy and they will immediately reach out for the tiny label attached to the toy, examine it and put it in their mouth. When crawling to a table, Mos found this little screw under the table and this screw consumed his attention for a good 5 minutes. Amaal, while crawling, saw an ant and immediately raced to try and bop its head with her flailing hands (Ant – 1, Amaal – 0). Yesterday, her attention was captured by an electric outlet and she crawled rapidly to check it out. Lesson learned; we covered the outlet, and fast. It is fascinating to watch Mos with a spoon. He rolls it one way, then another; gently put it down, bangs it on the table, then bangs it on another surface to hear a different sound; pushes it away and then bring it close, throws it and picks it up again. That one tiny spoon can literally hold his attention for 10 minutes. Someone gave Amaal a valentine gift of a stuffed orange toy that looks like a cross between a horse and a unicorn. Each time Amaal sees this orange toy she goes close to it and communicates to it by coughing twice; she has done this enough times that it is a thing. It’s all the little things.

And as we look after Mos and Amaal, we have started to see the little things and calling them out. so they see what we see. The wet leaf. The acorn on the ground. The texture of a wool blanket. The sound of birds. The bitter taste of lime. The sound of rain when it hits the deck. The sound of paper being torn. The perfect chai latte. Roasted potatoes made to perfection. A whiff of lilies. Stars so close you can touch them. Generously buttered toast. An ideal picnic spot. Discovering an Enid Blyton book in a bookstore. Late Sunday breakfast. A WhatsApp message from a friend. A big piece of Wholenut Chocolate. Mint in tea. The perfect Vanilla Chai Latte with Almond Milk. Dutch cheese. Making Wordle in two tries. Singing “Ain’t no mountain” off -tune. By calling this out, we are discovering the thrill of just being present to the little pieces of everyday life. And instead of moving from one thing to another without thought. we are learning from Mos and Amaal to slow down, savour the journey and bring awareness to all the simple joys that life has to offer.

And a big part of this for us is noticing the little things that Mos and Amaal can do today, that they could not do yesterday. Like clapping, or making duck faces, or learning to drink water from a glass, or growing teeth, or babbling and finding their voices.

The outstretched arms when they see you, the smile they greet you when they see you, the resistance to putting on snowsuits. Graduating to bigger diapers. And then there is the food. Like watching them as they taste or eat hummus and bread (and avocado, and oatmeal with banana and mango, and peanut butter and tahini). And just as each day is a new discovery for them, it is giving me the inspiration to re-discover foods and places and people and experiences that bring me joy. No more of focusing on the next big milestone; now it is about appreciating my todays and being present in the moment. What an incredible gift my grandchildren have given us!

When Things Don’t Go According to Plan…

So here I was. Preparing to co-facilitate a full day leadership program on zoom for a client in Vancouver. Except I was in Nairobi, a full 11 hours ahead of BC. It was 6:30 pm Kenya time. I was in Shayne’s office, testing everything, getting ready, making sure that the technology was just right. The first couple of participants showed up and indicated that they could not hear me. So I frantically checked my audio settings, to no avail. Sabrina, with her daughter Amaal on her hip, came to the office to help me out. As she was doing this, Amaal reached out and pulled out my wig. This feisty, determined, quick moving, 7 month old ball of fire, managed to do this with just one hard pull. Just like that, and so quickly. Fortunately, in the nick of time, I was able to hold on to the wig before anyone was the wiser. Catastrophe averted, but just barely.

As I shared this story with friends, they blurted out their own embarrassing moments. Like having their mike on in the washroom in the middle of a presentation. And accidently being on zoom video with the video on and dentures off. When I was on dexamethasone during cancer treatment, I actually bought a complete set of Richard Simmons videos which was being advertised in an infomercial on TV at 3 am; suffice to say I have never watched them. Another time, I MC’d an event, and forgot the name of one of the Guest Speakers that I had to introduce.

A colleague of mine had a quote on her desk that said something like, when something embarrassing happens to you, put your hands up and say, “how fascinating”. I love that quote. It brings humour to a situation without judgement and accepts that we all have lapses because life happens. It also transforms an embarrassing situation into possibility and learning. Another quote that recently showed up on my social media said, “when you stumble, make it part of the dance” That is my philosophy – – to embrace my stumbles because they are a part of who I am. And when I see someone else stumble, to take their hand and help them join the dance.

And today, when I went to play with Amaal, she immediately reached out to grab my hair. Except this time I was prepared with stronger clips and reinforcements. And if she had succeeded, I would have raised my arms and said, “how fascinating”!

Inclusion

It was a beautiful example of inclusion.

On our recent trip to Nairobi, Nagib and I were at the Sarit Centre with Amaal. Amaal was asleep in her stroller, so we decided to take a much needed break and grab a coffee and cheesecake at The Spring Noshery, a chic and trendy cafe. Seated at another table — physically distanced — were 3 beautiful young Kenyan women, dressed up to the nines with the newest fashion – tall boots, mini skirts, thick eyelashes. They looked like “influencers”. I could not take my eyes off them as they were having an animated conversation about men and trends and fashion and life in general. There were also a handful of men, just chilling. The music was this mix of the latest tunes that got me up and dancing.

Then Amaal woke up. Everyone working at the restaurant started cooing at her, calling her, playing with her. She was lapping up the attention. And then one of the servers asked me what Amaal’s favourite song was and the first song that came to my mind was Sharon, Lois and Bram’s Skinnamarink. She did not know the song and asked me to spell it (try spelling skinnamarink in a clutch!) and found it on Spotify. Next thing I know, this music is blaring on the speakers to the chagrin of the influencers. I thanked the lady at the restaurant and told them they could stop the baby music, perhaps because I was a bit self-conscious. They said Amaal was also their customer and deserved to hear music she loved. Next, they played Baby Shark and then Old McDonald Had a Farm. Now even the influencers were half smiling, and I noticed that a couple of the men at the restaurant were tapping their feet in concert to the music. Finally, it was time for us to go and we thanked them profusely for making it so special for Amaal (and us!).

I teach about the importance of diversity and inclusion; that people need to feel a sense of belonging to bring their best selves forward. And this is true in a family or workplace or community. This spontaneous burst of inclusion for Amaal was a delightful reminder of how to make this happen when you are intentional about it. This is something that I have to make a conscious effort to do, particularly with my family. In my desire to get things done quickly (and I am a master at getting things done), I sometimes forget to take the time to bring everyone along and get their buy-in. I have learnt that the extra time I take to be inclusive, to listen to diverse perspectives and to create buy-in, pays of in the long run.

Amaal may not remember this cafe and what they did for her. But it was an indelible memory to me of what inclusion looks like and how amazing it felt to experience it. I will go back to this coffee shop, repeatedly, each time I am in Nairobi. They know what they are doing to create lifelong customers.

Generosity

Her name is Winnie and she is an active, proud, redhead Kenyan, always moving, her eyes darting to acknowledge a new customer. She has a tiny stall right on the street where she sells fruits and vegetables – avocadoes, mangos, bananas, zucchini, a box of tomatoes or two. She happens to be located within walking distance of Shayne and Cherrelle’s home. And at least a couple of times a week, Cherrelle drops by on her way home to pick up some fruit from Winnie.

Sabrina and I drove up to Winnie and introduced ourselves as Cherrelle’s family. She rewarded us with a huge smile and then helped us find some beautiful ripe bananas. We paid her by M-Pesa and the transaction was completed. Next thing we know, she filled another bag for us with one mango, three avocados, an orange and an apple. She did not want payment for this. It was like we had come to her little home and she was offering us gifts. When we resisted, she shoo’d us away with a wave and a smile and then took time to accompany us to the car to meet the rest of the family.

This incident has stayed with me deeply. Winnie was certainly not rich. She was barely making a living, surviving day to day. And yet, she shared what little she had with us. There was no expectation, no obligation, no agenda. She did not know whether we would come back. She was not repaying a favour, or expecting one. She gave because she desired to give.

Her action has inspired me to think about how I interact with others. So this past week, rather than just rushing through the day, getting things done, I have been taking a little bit of extra time to see how I can give a little bit more of myself to the other. For me this was sending a note to a friend telling him of the difference he has made in my life. It was extending a coaching session in service of a client who was having an “ah hah” moment and needed that extra time to explore a concept. It was paying for a coffee for a stranger. It was delighting a vendor at the Masai Market by giving her more for a necklace than she asked for, and tipping the waitress at Art Caffe 50% of the cost of the meal. Going beyond the transaction, to connect with the humanity of the other.

And when we got home to Toronto after an extremely long flight, we found dinner waiting for us in the kitchen. A thoughtful gesture from a treasured person who desired nothing more than to make things better for us when we returned home, tired and hungry. Giving for the joy of giving.