Dear Love Bugs:
It has been quite some time since you heard from me, but the good news is that I now have a featured show each Wednesday that airs at noon on the Philadelphia Sunday SUN’s page called Ask Muva Lunch Hour Live. Please join us on Facebook, where you can ask questions or give commentary. I look forward to seeing you there!
My subject matter for this column is simply this — words can heal and destroy.
With leadership comes an awesome responsibility, one we often try not to think about. The good news is if we surround ourselves with people who are willing to be our mirror, self-reflection will become a habit that will prevent us from making decisions that could alter the course of someone’s life in a negative way.
No more has this truth been evident than in the 27-year feud between former “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” co-star “Aunt Viv” Janet Hubert and Will Smith that came to a head recently when they sat down to speak in a controlled setting with a therapist nearby.
The popular sitcom aired for six seasons, and was a fan favorite for many, especially those who live in Philadelphia, where the storyline of the show’s main character, played by Smith, began.
Smith, then a 21-year old rapper turned actor, used his gift for gab and jokes to launch him into a career that has spanned decades.
By his own admission in a recent “Red Table Talk’’ that is usually hosted by his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, he was young and seeking approval of those who were around him at the time, based on his traumatic childhood. He said that as a child, when his father was abusive to his mother, he used jokes to lighten the mood wherever he was. Telling those jokes gave him a sense of approval, as he made people laugh, so he kept doing it no matter where he was.
Hubert is an accomplished, Juilliard-trained actress who was very committed to her craft. She was also at the time, a 34-year-old dark-skinned Black woman who knew her opportunities were few, so she made sure that her work ethic was solid.
What no one also knew at the time was that she was in a horrible marriage that was abusive with a young son. Working with Smith, who was always playing jokes and not taking his role seriously according to her, was untenable. Smith thought she did not like him, and because he was the star of the show, created an environment where she was pushed off to the side and eventually out the door when they made her last contract negotiation an insult to her dignity. She told them “no thank you” and walked away.
Her marriage imploded, and Smith in his youthful fervor was angry that she did not like him, according to his own admission. Behind closed doors, he used his power and words to almost destroy this woman’s life.
Twenty-seven years later, he realized after listening to the pain that was caused from their conversation, and how words can destroy long after they have been uttered. Hubert, because of the influence that Smith had, was shunned in Hollywood for years. because according to her, word came from Smith that she was difficult to work with.
Hubert did not help her case by spending years on any platform that she could find on social media ripping Smith to shreds in her anger and pain. Some people deal with their hurt privately, but she chose to deal with hers publicly. That public display of pain and anger continued to cost her dearly for years down the road.
She was not able to let the pain go. I believe now that is what resonated with Smith when it was decided there would be a 30-year reunion of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” on HBOMax. He wanted Hubert to be a part of it, but he knew he could not do it without opening that wound and debriding it so they could move on.
If you watched any part of that conversation, or saw the Red Table Talk shortly thereafter, then you know that they have taken the first solid steps of forgiving each other, and healing took place for them both. What I love the most about this story is that Smith came full circle and understood how words can harm and how words can heal. He took responsibility for his role in creating a chasm that almost swallowed whole a woman who is now in her 60s and lost a good 30 years of working in an industry that meant so much to her.
He also took responsibility for the child that he was back then, stating that he truly was just seeking approval anywhere he was planted. He wanted that stable family environment that he didn’t have at home and tried to recreate it everywhere he went, including in his marriages.
While many may think that he has not had to pay the steep price that Hubert did, make no mistake, he continues to pay a price in ways many may not understand, because of his wealth and popularity. Smith is living out his vulnerabilities now in an effort to heal that young 21-year-old that lives in his head who constantly sought approval.
My prayer now is that he moves beyond the apology that he gave to Hubert, and while they may not have a deep relationship moving forward, that he truly uses the power and influence he has to open doors for her. I believe that will heal her soul more than anything else — because while words matter and can heal, actions speak volumes in ways that can only enhance those words.
While we all have power and influence in our small circles or larger ones, the goal then is to be certain that we use them for good and to work through our idiosyncrasies instead of projecting them on to others.
Make no mistake about it, you will pay the price for those words that you spew without thinking and it may not happen the way you think it should, or would. We never get away with the things we say or do, as karma has a long memory, and whatever we put into the universe is what comes back to us over time.
I challenge you now to always take a deep breath and think through whatever may be bothering you before responding or reacting in the moment. Doing so requires a certain level of growth and maturity and,quite frankly, a level of accountability and vulnerability.
The person who is willing to take responsibility for their actions without projecting, at the end of the day, will rise like cream in leadership and in life.
One more thing — work out those childhood traumas, because they will follow you around emotionally until you do, and you will respond to everything through that emotional lens, whether you believe it or not.