Outgrowing Petty: What Gabrielle Union and Jada Pinkett-Smith can teach us about forgiveness

Jada Pinkett-Smith and Gabrielle Union thegrio.comFacebook

On the latest episode of Jada Pinkett Smith‘s Facebook talk show, “Red Table Talk,” she and fellow Black Hollywood favorite Gabrielle Union finally let go of their 17-year feud.

Even though both actresses have teased us about this long overdue sit-down in the press, the episode showing how it all went down wasn’t released until Memorial Day.

During the 20-minute discussion, they were candid about their falling out, their own journeys of growth and how they’ve since learned to heal relationships with other women.

Given how women are often pitted against each other (both on and off the screen) fans were treated to a plethora of truth bombs that left them pausing to reflect on their own relationships and hang ups about forgiveness.

Inspired by this week’s installment of Red Table Talk, below is a checklist of questions you need to consider when deciding which friends you need to forgive and keep around vs which ones you need to love from a distance.

1. Why are you REALLY mad?

At the start of the episode Jada admits, “Gabrielle and I were never really girlfriends, we were great associates that at some point, that dissolved and for 17 years we have not really spoken. We don’t even know [what we’re mad at].”

This is a very common sentiment. It’s rarely just one thing that ends a friendship, but more often a series of misunderstandings, judgements, and disappointments that chip away any sense of trust that was previously established.

Instead of nit picking about specific incidents, its often more valuable to identify what the general sentiment of your dissatisfaction is with your now (or soon to be) former friend.

Do you find them dismissive and/or disrespectful?

Are you frustrated by the way they take from you without ever giving anything in return?

Do you feel like there is a lack of loyalty that makes betrayal feel like it’s always right around the corner?

Be willing to admit the core reason for your dis-ease with this person so that you can honestly discern what the situation is trying to teach you (rather than hyper-focusing on just one moment of failure). This step is important and can’t be skipped because if you don’t identity what the real issue is in this friendship, it could very well pop up in other relationships.

For those who often ask, “Why does this keep happening to me?” the answer is simple: the lesson will only stop appearing once you learn it.

2. What part have you played?

During Gabby and Jada’s discussion, even though they weren’t sure what finally caused them to officially have “beef” with each other, they both admitted that their disconnect mostly stemmed from the fact that they felt threatened by each other.

There is an incredible amount of power in being able to admit something like that without any pretense.

A lot of times we are so busy playing victim, we lose the ability to accept the roles we play in the demise of a relationship. Even if the situation is one of betrayal, deceit, etc where the “good guy” and “bad guy” seem to be clear as day, there’s always room to marinate on how you ended up co-creating that experience. This isn’t about fault or blame but more so about pinpointing places where you need to set stronger and healthier boundaries.

To this point, there was a moment during the episode where Jada commends Gabby on her public moment of accountability, which occurred during a speech she gave at Essence’s 2013 Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon.

While bravely standing in front of a room of her peers, Union had admitted she used to take joy “in people’s pain.” And after she “hit rock bottom” following the demise of her first marriage, she’d worked with fitness trainer/life coach AJ Johnson, who helped her take ownership for a nasty streak that had previously gone unchecked.

“She got me right between the eyes, it was harsh in the moment, but it was like damn, I have been communicating through negativity,” Union explained.

“We’ve all been there,” Smith responded. “Someone else comes along and we feel threatened in some form and we feel like we have to shrink somebody else down in order to feel bigger.”

“I’m a hater, I’m a troll,” Gabrielle Union said of her past. “[AJ Johnson] was like, all those negative things that had been happening in your life, it’s exactly what you’re putting out, you’re getting back. I had to see myself clearly. It’s ugly, it’s hard, it’s painful to recognize that you are the common denominator for the vast majority of your problems.”

Do you have a hidden mean streak? Or perhaps you shrink in order to make people like you more? Everyone has self-limiting coping mechanisms that need to be addressed and updated at some point. The end of a friendship is the perfect time to check in with yourself about how you show up in relationships in general.

If identifying this on your own is too tricky, do what Gabby did and call up your most clear headed, (and blunt) confidant. Give them permission to point out places in your situation where you may have a blindspot about your own culpability.

3. To speak or not to speak?

Smith has admitted that her lack of communication with Union over the years “was some petty ass sh**.” She added, “Every time we would see each other, it was always cordial, always nice, but there was always tension.”

Union then recalled one awkward interaction during an event in Washington, D.C.

“I think it was last year or two years ago, me and my friend were leaving the White House — this is some some boujee Black people thing, so I was leaving the White House — and you were walking in and there was this moment of do I hug her?”

Jada also shared an uncomfortable moment at the NAACP Awards, where they were asked to pose for a photo together, a photo op Gabrielle Union would later describe as “the stiffest picture” ever.

Learn from Jada and Gabby’s mistakes.

If you choose to cut off someone who runs in similar circles, decide proactively how to handle run-ins, and avoid the type of awkward moments these two ladies had to endure for almost a twenty years.

Are you the type of person who can pull a Beyonce and smile cordially at anyone regardless of how you feel? Or are you more of a Cardi B ala, “If I see you and I don’t speak that means I don’t f*** with you?”

Keep it all the way real with yourself on this one, because whatever you decide you’re gonna have to own it in order to keep things light.

I’m more of a Beyonce/Cardi hybrid where I can smile at just about anyone UNLESS they’ve directly disrespected me to my face. Then, there’s a 0.00% chance they’ll ever hear my voice directed towards them ever again because the jig is up.

This doesn’t even mean I’m mad – just intentionally disengaged.

The key in deciding how you want to address (or not address) people you don’t deal with anymore comes down to one major question, “What can you believably pull off that will cause the least amount of tension?”

If a brief “hello” and a smile will keep everything cordial, do that.

If the mere sound of your voice will start World War III, then hush and keep it moving. Either way, don’t let anyone force your hand on this one, cause that will come off fake to everyone in attendance and just make the situation even more tense than it already is.

4. What version of forgiveness makes the most sense?

Forgiving someone and allowing them back into your life, are not the same thing.

Do you miss your friend enough to rebuild? If so be clear about what you’d like this new incarnation of your friendship to look like, and ask yourself if you have the energy and desire to put the past behind you.

We are often told that repairing a friendship is a necessity to show you’ve moved passed a falling out. This is categorically untrue. Sometimes people, very sincerely just outgrow each other. And it doesn’t make sense to drag someone back into your life just to prove to others what a good person you are.

When Smith noted that focusing on a healthier outlook led to the loss of some of her friends, Union said she had experienced the same thing but actually had “zero” regrets about letting people go.

“Bye! if you’re ever ready, I’ll be over here living my best life and enjoying who I really am,” she added. “I see that you’re enjoying your misery and I’ll leave you to that.”

Now, to be fair, not everyone we outgrow is miserable. Some people are living happy lives that just aren’t compatible with ours. There’s no need to cast anyone as a loser just because they are no longer on the journey with us. But to Gabby’s credit, she admits she’s still a work in progress. So we’ll let that last comment slide. This time.

One of the most beautiful things about watching these two women unpack their complicated past is that it shows no matter how rich, famous, successful, or beautiful you are, no one is ever too powerful (or too old) to learn better ways to interact and perceive the world around them.

Girls Trippin’ with Gabrielle Union

Jada Pinkett Smith and Gabrielle Union have an open discussion about the ups and downs of friendship and the power of sisterhood.Make sure to follow Red Table Talk for more episodes!

Posted by Red Table Talk on Monday, May 28, 2018

Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric


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