Surely you remember kindness: it was popular back when we were taught that if you couldn’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all. No? Drawing a blank? Okay, kindness is the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people, or an act showing this quality, according to the dictionary they publish out of Cambridge.

That’s right, it’s doing something nice for someone, just because it’s nice and the person will appreciate it. No payback, no expectations, no winning; it’s a little community-building act that strengthens the bond between people. It encourages trust, friendship and generosity. It makes the world a little better place to live. It’s a feel-good exercise like buying shots of Jägermeister at the bar for friends but without the alcohol, bar, or friends, for that matter. Okay, the analogy is a bit strained, but you get the picture.

Kindness was big in the 1950s. After a brutal war, America stepped in and helped the Japanese rebuild their economy. Sure, you can convincingly argue that it wasn’t from the kindness of our hearts to engineer the economic and political rehabilitation of Japan, yet there was an element of kindness there even if it was superficial; it was part of our American culture. It sent a message that we do not want to destroy you, we just want to be able to get along.

Kindness was more pervasive back then compared to today. TV was new; sitcoms like “Father Knows Best” and “Ozzie and Harriet” — hokey by today’s standards — often brought home that the right thing to do was to be kind. Even “Leave It to Beaver,” where Eddie Haskell would stoke the fires of deceit and meanness, had kindness trump his efforts.

What happened? Maybe you don’t feel a difference. Maybe you aren’t old enough for perspective, but somewhere along the way things changed. Children were brought up thinking that everything they did was a “good job,” a reinforcement they received for creating bad art to bowel movements.

The message of popular music changed from happiness-seeking songs in the ’50s to songs about society’s ills in the ’60s, the quest for inner and world peace in the ’70s and then, even though I lost track of popular music when I turned to raising a family, I feel that songs tended to be more about the singer than anything else. They were the greatest, nastiest, most beautiful, best lovers, most important or coolest people on the planet. Popular music seemed to serve up ego, with a side of arrogance.

People got a little meaner. Sure, people have always had a mean streak, but more and more people were coming out and saying mean things. Do you think it was the emergence of social media that allowed people to say the meanest things they could conjure and say it to all the world without having to identify themselves? This cloak of anonymity allowed us to expose our selfish cruelty without any repercussions; without the fear of being identified by society as the one with antisocial tendencies. Mama never said, “If you can’t say anything nice, make sure your name isn’t attached.”

There were other factors at play: the electorate became polarized, rich people became wealthier and poor people were trapped and overburdened if not overtly oppressed. There was the high cost of education, underlying racism, population pressure, the environment, climate change and the disappearance of the Good Humor Man. A few wrong turns and we left kindness in the rear-view mirror.

We have to know that success is not only achieved by mistreating people or by taking advantage of their needs in spite of the messages we get from today’s music, political leadership and TV shows.

Acts of kindness have benefits for the individual and society. They can release hormones to improve your well-being and mood. It’s not a shot of Jägermeister but its effects are more widespread and productive. Studies have shown that kindness is contagious. One act of kindness can cascade and produce a chain reaction of positive events. Kindness moves us out of the realm of selfishness. It creates a net happiness in society where we may all benefit.

We could bring back kindness if we all schedule one small act of kindness a day. It could lead to our next pandemic, where the result would be a kinder, gentler world.

Oh no, we can leave behind Ozzie and The Beaver. Let’s not push it.