Kindness and the Size of the World

Guest Post by Sarah Sellman for the Kind Kindred series.


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Kindness and the Size of the World

Every time I’m in an airplane, I hope for the window seat. But even when I’m looking down from 30,000 feet on a clear day, appreciating the shapes, imagining the Earth like skin, the smallness, I know something’s missing. Getting across the US in a few hours certainly makes the country feel small, and yet the infinite sights and stories I’m missing out on below manage to make the country feel bigger than I can imagine.

So begins the paradox of cross-country travel. I find that the big/small perspective is only heightened by road travel. Something about feeling the miles tick away, seeing each tree, blade of grass, gas station, billboard, water tower, and the cars flying by alongside you, really makes the space feel full, rich, huge. The vast numbers of stories that you drive by – the kid with his bubble gum stuck to the window and the sleeping girl in the passenger seat – make the world seem so large. But then you connect with people, maybe run into a stranger who knows the people you know or the places you know – and suddenly the world feel smaller again. We bounce between these perspectives in size endlessly.

That same shifting applies to kindness, to my passion in kindness. The problems with the world, the issues, and the fights taking place all over the country, the earth – those problems are big problems. They are so big it’s hard to understand their shape and size. But we can shift our perspective. There is something transforming in an act of kindness, in a moment of connection, that makes all those problems seem smaller and makes the moment we are currently experiencing blow up. Making the world seem larger, making each act seem more important, making it seem fixable, easy.

And that is where my journey began.


My partner and I wanted to travel the country – what a large world – and connect with strangers – what a small world – on an individual level – what a large world – by relying on them for a home each night. So, through 30 states over the course of 60 days we drove around the country and relied on strangers.

It all began a year earlier, during another road trip, when Greg spoke out in his sleep, saying “Sarah! We have to go to Bear, Colorado!” We were thrilled by the idea of a dream-destiny –- and disappointed when we found out that actually, Bear, CO doesn’t exist. But can you imagine when we found out that there were 5 other Bears making a perfect horseshoe between Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Arkansas, and Delaware? It had to happen! The film centers on our struggle to find a home each night through the kindness of the individual. But the film expands to paint a portrait of Americans as a community and the questions we all have about the people who aren’t us and the places that aren’t our homes. It tells the stories of a few of the most irregular, profound and affected individuals we encountered. From the daughter of the last warrior woman of the Cheyenne mountain tribe whose grandson is still facing bigotry in South Dakota; to the twice married ghost hunters trying to synthesize their experiences in small-town New York; to young friends in Mississippi trying to understand the “country” stereotype, maybe even reclaim it – each character is facing some obstacle that allows us to see a unique side of the multifaceted American lifestyle. That allows us to understand their life in an instant.

The life each person lives is a full life, so their stories are full stories, with huge consequences. Though they are just one person in one town on one journey, an evening with a stranger can shift your perspective. Rather than seeing their life in pieces, like you do with friends and family, you experience their entire life at one time. Their life becomes huge and that moment you have with them feels like it can solve the problems of the world.

And maybe it can. Or at least maybe it starts there.

Maybe kindness can do more than just change your perspective, maybe it is the beginning, the first choice we make on a the road to greater consequences.

Maybe the individual is the greatest resource the world has for generating change, and it starts with a simple act of kindness.

Maybe the challenge we have with perspective, the size of the world, is a great thing, because it creates a space for us to make change. The paradox in perspective allows us to see that the world is small enough to help, but large enough that you can find a place to begin.

To learn more about American Bear visit AmericanBearFilm.com or submit your own story of kindness at iamakindstranger.com.

SARAH SELLMAN is a filmmaker, student and kindness enthusiast. A recent graduate of Tisch School of the Arts at NYU for film and video production, she spends most of her time working on kindness initiatives in Syracuse, NY. American Bear is her first feature, and was filmed while she was attending school. She is currently excited about a series of events in the works for the summer that include kind adventures in different cities around the country. She loves collaboration and connection, so if you want to spread some kindness please connect with her! She can be reached via email at snsellman@gmail.com, on Facebook or on twitter @RelyonStrangers.

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