Ever receive an unexpected compliment? ‘Your hair looks great.’ ‘That photo you took is beautiful.’ ‘Your story was really funny.’ It’s the unexpected compliment that often makes your entire day, and brings a smile to your face as you recall the interaction. Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear those sorts of compliments more often online?

If you can’t say something nice…

We’ve all heard the stories of online bullying and how the anonymity of the internet creates a sense of removal of accountability for one’s actions. And for most people, if they have public profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, or any other sharing platform, chances are they’ve received at least one negative comment, from someone they don’t know. As spectators we read these types of comments daily on other people’s feeds and channels.

As children it was common for us to be told “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” And so it is often baffling how someone feels the need to make hurtful comments — to someone they’ve never met — as if the old adage no longer applies.

How do we normalize positive language?

Many video games have taken steps to filter out negative language, and social media sites allow people to block other users and hide unwelcome comments. This is a great first step — as people tend to mimic the culture and language they see. If they join a group and everyone is using certain language when they comment, they are more likely to use that language as well, because they want to fit it.

However this does not stop the trolls and those just looking to be mean. Ask any community support manager and they’ll tell you that children are resourceful. They will continually try to manipulate the system.

The solution is not to build better filters or to use AI to sift through language, context, etc. And many people are completely against filters when it comes to 13+ platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. It’s the conflict between free speech and protecting users.

Rather than focusing on those users who are engaging in negative behavior, we want to be focusing on those who are advocates for positivity. Normalizing and celebrating positive language and behavior sets the tone for the type of interaction we want to see. To take it one step further than the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” and instead to simply “say something nice.”

When teaching my martial arts students, and having them demonstrate in front of each other, before I give them my feedback on what they could do to improve, I ask the other students “what was really good about their demonstration?” For one, it ensures that the students are actually paying attention to one another. But it also boosts the confidence of the person who was demonstrating.

We need to apply the same rules to how we comment online. Before saying anything make sure we’ve read the whole post. That we understand the content. Then take the opportunity to perhaps make that person’s day. Tell them what you loved. What stood out. What you can relate to.

What about our own posts?

Ever find yourself posting consistently negative status updates? While here at Mazu we believe in being our full authentic selves, we also should be aware of how our words affect ourselves and others. Negativity breeds negativity. Positivity breeds positivity.

There are some great articles and videos on the power of positive thinking. What they essentially come down to, is that by focusing on the positive — three things we’re grateful for everyday, sending someone s thank you email, journaling about something good that happened in the last 24 hours — we can rewire the brain to be more positive, to look for positivity.

Instead of focusing on the negative, we spread a little positivity — on our feeds and to others.

Children learn through observing

Our children learn behavior by observing the world around them. We as parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, can lead with a positive mentality at home. By celebrating their achievements, no matter how small. By asking them about their day at school, with questions like “Who were you kind to?” “What made you happy/excited?” By encouraging random acts of kindness in the home or neighborhood. Starting with ourselves, we can create a habit of kindness. Before they get on social media it should be commonplace for them to make positive comments — about school, their friends and family, what they ate for breakfast. Then when it comes time for them to engage with their friends and social network they’ll be more likely to continue that positive behavior.

But also to provide them with spaces online that teach them how to interact in others. Instead of teaching about cyberbullying and what to do if it happens to them, teach them about cyberfriendship — how they engage in safe online interactions. The team here at Mazu believes in creating a safe digital village. Where values like hope, family, and respect are still paramount and are children are surrounded with love and positivity.

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