The first week of August, I participated in my first “GISHWHES” — the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. GISHWHES is a scavenger hunt like a seahorse is a fish — technically it is one, but it’s not at all what you imagine when you hear the word…it’s far more strange and ridiculous and startling and wonderful and amazing, and if you try to describe it to someone who’s never heard of it, you will be unable to do it justice while also sounding like you might be a little bit crazy. 
The items you collect for GISHWHES are actually tasks that your 15-member team attempts to complete; things like random acts of kindness, strange art, and silly public performances. It’s all designed to push you outside your comfort zone, interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise, and make a difference in your community, the world, and yourself. Nothing about it is easy, it’s exhausting and frustrating and sleep-depriving and panic-inducing, and I can’t wait to do it again next year. GISHWHES had a huge and lasting effect on me. It reminded me of things I’d forgotten about myself, aspects of my personality that had faded over the years surged back to life, and I really looked at the world and people around me again. Below is just one example. 
This is Robert. He’s homeless, and panhandles at a busy intersection. During GISHWHES week, I saw him while I was out running errands. I would have given him some money anyway, but because of GISHWHES, something more happened. As he approached, I thought about the “7 days of kindness” item my team was trying to accomplish, so I leaned out to ask if it was ok to take a photo “for a scavenger hunt task to do random acts to make others happy.” He replied, “Why sure you can! That’s a fine thing; nobody’s ever asked to take my picture!”

Look very closely at this photo; specifically, at our hands (which, by happy accident, you can also see in the mirror). After I took the photo, I reached out to shake his hand and say thanks for helping me with my scavenger hunt task. Robert seemed surprised, at both the thanks and that I offered a handshake. It took him a blink or two before he took my hand and shook it enthusiastically, giving me a big grin as he told me, “Most people don’t even want to look at me or talk to me, much less shake a dirty beggar’s hand…I’m even real careful how I take money so I don’t touch somebody and upset ’em.”
Think about that for a second, and look again at that photo. Look at how carefully he is trying to avoid touch, how he’s contorted his fingers because he’s worried that a brief graze might offend me. Set aside your own bias about what might have put Robert in this place in life, about why he needs to beg instead of work, etc, and just imagine for a minute what it would be like to feel that way. To tell yourself every day, in every human interaction, that just touching someone’s hand accidentally could upset them. Think about what a degrading, isolating, de-humanizing feeling that would be. And think about how he must have been treated to make him believe this. That’s what I thought about in that moment. 
I said, “Well, I believe we all need human contact as much as we need food and water. Could you use a hug? Would that be ok?” He nodded, so I leaned out and gave him a big hug. I don’t think anything I’ve ever done in my life has resulted in such a big, glowing, blushing, teary smile from a stranger. As the light turned green, I waved goodbye and Robert shouted “Thank you, young lady, I really needed that!” I shouted back “Thank YOU, Sir, and you be careful out here!”
I didn’t end up using this photo for GISHWHES because I didn’t want it to be about me doing a task to reach a goal, and because the photo didn’t even come close to showing everything that happened in that moment. I decided to share the whole story, to encourage everyone to look for ways to be kind and to connect with people that you might otherwise look right past. It doesn’t take a lot of time, effort, or money. When you actively look for ways to be kind, you really see people. You notice if people around you are hurting, or lonely, or struggling. And sometimes, that in itself is the act of kindness they need most.