A few weeks ago, I participated in the last ever GISHWHES — the “Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen” — run by the charity Random Acts and its founder Misha Collins. It’s a week-long extravaganza where teams of 15 people hurry to complete as many tasks as possible from a list of over 200. These tasks can be anything from donating feminine hygiene products to a women’s shelter, playing a video game with a child in the hospital while dressed as a character from that game, to creating a stop motion video using only socks.
This hunt may only happen one week out of every year, but the principles can and should be applied year-round. GISHWHES is all about making the world a better (and weirder) place — put another way, it’s about performing random acts of kindness.
I definitely think it’s human nature to do kind things for one another, even for strangers. Every time we offer a friend a bite of our food, let someone in front of us in line or compliment a passerby on their outfit, we’re committing a random act of kindness. Or, if you’ve ever heard a story on social media and commented something like “this restores my faith in humanity!,” chances are that was a random act of kindness too. And the reason that we want to do things for each other is that both people come away from it feeling good. Either giving or receiving a kind act is enough to put a smile on someone’s face and brighten someone’s day, and in an ideal world, I’m sure we’d all constantly be doing kind things.
But, sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world.
We live among political unrest, in a world full of white supremacist rallies and presidents who don’t see a problem with staring directly into the sun without eye protection. No matter our political views, a lot of us find ourselves clashing and arguing with people every day over our opinions. We’re so often confronted with unkindness, that being kind — especially to someone we don’t know, and therefore don’t know the views of or how they would treat us — can seem like a foreign concept. I know that I’ve been tempted in the past, when a homeless person has asked me for money, to ask them “What’s your opinion on gay marriage?” before making a decision.
Of course, I’ve never actually done that. But even though I think it’s human nature to be kind, I also think it’s understandable that we might only want to be kind to people who share our fundamental values and beliefs.
And that’s what I think makes random acts of kindness even more important right now. Partly because we’re all so used to hate and conflict that most people are starved for kindness, but also because a true random act has no strings attached. It’s not based on the fact that you think the recipient is a good person who deserves it, it’s based on the idea that the act itself increases the amount of good in the world, even just by a tiny bit.
I’d never suggest that small kindnesses are a cure for all our problems. If I pay for the coffee of the man behind me in line, that’s definitely not going to change his view that men are biologically superior to women. But it’s certainly not going to make things worse. And when we do end up in fights, maybe it’ll be the memories of the kindnesses we’ve given and received that’ll make us keep working towards what we believe.