Catch ’em with kindness: Small, selfless acts pay back giver, receiver

Follow instructions completely: open mouth. Stick out tongue. Place teeth above and below. Apply pressure. Repeat procedure when dying to say something very, very regrettable.

“Bully,” a new documentary by Lee Hirsch, highlights the importance of biting your tongue rather than giving it free reign. The 90-minute look into peer-on-peer harassment was thrust into this month’s media spotlight as it tussled with the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) over an “R” rating, receiving national attention for its innocuous use of profanity. While the two sides squabble over a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad swear like a couple of first-graders at recess, the heart of the matter — stressing the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad reality that is modern bullying — flatlines.

In the advent of technology, harassment transcended pettiness within classroom walls, clambering into backpacks and back pockets to follow victims home by way of cell phones and social media. The current generation of teenagers is equipped with 24-hour means of assault; cyberbullying and vicious online attacks joined the ranks of a good old-fashioned punch to the face. With a boost in accessibility comes a rise in frequency, and the recent spike in youth suicide as a product of harassment hints that many are embracing the opportunity.

Though we clearly have the means to be mean, I don’t want to be part of an era forever labeled as Generation Jerks. I want to be part of the revolution that reclaims manners and rapport and peer support and all those charmingly corny qualities that coat your insides with warm fuzzies. Chivalry isn’t entirely dead — it still twitches a little bit if you poke it hard enough.

In order to revive the dying art of niceness, I propose we all start by taking just one day a week to consciously do or say or emote something that makes another person feel good.

That’s it. Personally, I’m picking Mondays because they suck to begin with and it’s not hard finding someone who needs a boost. On this day, make eye contact with the socially awkward penguin in algebra; give a back-scratch to the friend who you know will never reciprocate; smile — and I mean genuinely smile, none of this smirking business — to the bully that’s tried so hard to stop you from doing so.

For the bullies out there, maybe your act of kindness doesn’t involve an extravagant gesture. Maybe your kind act entails not being a jerk for a day, taking baby steps towards acting human and whatnot. Enjoy a day of don’ts: don’t stare open-mouthed at a social pariah and enjoy resting your jaw instead; don’t expend energy gossiping about falsehoods and enjoy keeping your vivid imagination inside your head instead; don’t waste time composing a poisonous (and grammar-pocked) Facebook message at midnight with one of your friends and enjoy the feeling of humanity instead. Simply put, don’t be a tool (Home Depot’s got plenty of those).

If selflessness doesn’t come easy, frame it as selfishness: making someone happy makes you feel just as good. Kindness acts as a sort of mood glue that sticks you to the affected person; when their day turns around, the glue holding you together tends to pull yours around as well. Try it: if ever a day comes when Life’s kicked you so hard in the baby-maker that you’re bent over gasping for air and cursing anything still breathing, actively hunt someone down and tell them they look pretty, or that they smell good or something. Watch their face closely, and when the corners of their mouth push their eyes into a squint, take a deep long gulp of vindicated air and revel in curb-stomping the lemon of a day Life handed you.

I promise it’s that simple. At its most basic, just be nice to people, because nobody likes a jerk.

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