The idea was that all of us need to give a little bit of ourselves in order to make our society a better place.
Hello, it's Tony Howell, and thank you for listening to my podcast.
Before we dive into this month's show, I want to remind you if you haven't heard, we have a FREE community event happening on Sunday, May 26th here in New York and the details and the link to RSVP are below. That being said, if you're interested in learning more about marketing and productivity, you can join me and many other incredible speakers on Friday, May 17th at the Promote U Conference, also in New York. And if you use the promo code below you can save $100.
Now with that, I want to start off this episode, if you're listening to the episode on the release date, by saying Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers in the audience, but also I want to specifically say Happy Mother's Day to all female identifying creators. Thank you all for your labor, as well as your beautiful creations.
Now beyond Mother's Day, it's also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which is why I was thrilled when Mila Atmos said yes to being this month's guest. Mila is the Host and Executive Producer of Future Hindsight, a podcast focused on growing civic engagement, fostering civil discourse, and elevating the democratic process.
In other words, Mila explores the ways in which we all have the power to shape society. So outside of podcasting, Mila's also a columnist, she's been published in the Huffington Post, Quartz and Medium. Now, if you are like me and you're feeling a little bit defeated about American politics and the state of our world, this episode is really important alongside listening to Mila's entire podcast. Remember that you are not alone, nor powerless. Let's do this.
Hello, Mila. Thank you for being here.
Thank you for having me.
Future Hindsight is amazing. Congratulations.
Can you talk us through why you started it and what it is?
Sure. So you know that I used to write blogs and I wanted to have a conversation with the American people about the way that they were civically engaged. And my initial idea was to write a book and I talked to a friend of mine who is a literary agent, and she told me it would take two years to publish a book. And I thought, oh no, no. I want to have this conversation right now. So I thought about it that summer, it was the summer of 2017 and I decided what I really want to do is do a podcast because I love listening to podcasts. It's a great way to take in new information sort of on the run, because you can listen while you're commuting. You can listen while cooking, which is what I do a lot, listen while cooking. And I thought, why don't I do this? This sounds like a good idea.
And amazing. And now you've had five seasons. So who have been some of your favorite guests?
That's a really difficult question. I like everybody. Everybody is really amazing. First of all, what's really special about it, is that the people that have come on the show, they are all super committed to making change and improving their communities on a small scale or a large scale. And I think that's super impressive, but perhaps the people that are most close to my heart are the people who are not the super well-educated people. For example, Joe Hardigan, he was in our first season, he is a retired firefighter and he has been an advocate for full-time ferry service to Rockaway Queens for over 24 years. And he does that all on his own. He goes to community board meetings. He goes to transportation security meetings and he spends a lot of his time and his personal money to go and advocate for the ferry. And he succeeded finally in 2017, they installed a full-time ferry service. And I think that's really tremendous.
From your conversations with these people, have you seen any throughlines, whether it's qualities in changemakers or actions that changemakers take, have you seen any sort of consistency?
I think the consistency is that they have confidence that whatever they do will work. I think a lot of people like to be naysayers or a lot of people try to talk themselves out of doing things, but not these people, all of them think, I'm going to try it. I'm going to go out there and do this thing. And they are maybe just fearless and confident.
So what have been the most inspiring stories beyond the ferry?
I think one of the best stories is Max Kenner. He started the Bard Prison Initiative. And so in the mid 1990s Bill Clinton passed a crime bill that removed Pell Grants from prison. And it used to be for many decades that if you were in prison, you received, or you were eligible to receive, I should say a college education in prison. And that is one of the best ways to reduce recidivism rates. And in 1999, Max Kenner was an undergraduate at Bard and he decided to start this program called Bard Prison Initiative. I think it started really as a few classes at a nearby prison near to Bard. And now they are at five prisons and they have about, I want to say 450 undergraduates. It's really changing lives. And I think it's the kind of thing where as an undergraduate, he was told many times this is never going to work. New York State is not going to let you do this. The prisons are not going to let you in. And here we are. And it's getting bigger and he's trying to roll it out nationwide with other colleges across the country.
So speaking of things, getting bigger, I want to circle back to your book. Now that you've had five seasons, how do you feel about the journey from that idea for whatever the book was and then what you've been able to create thus far with all the audio content?
So the book idea was originally about encouraging more civic engagement. I think after the 2016 election, everybody felt sore and everybody felt like, oh, you know, so unhappy and hopeless and powerless on both sides of the aisle. I think a lot of people thought there were two terrible choices running for president and a lot of people didn't vote. And so I thought that the answer, the antidote to healing our democracy was to get more people involved, that all of us need to give a little bit of ourselves in order to make our society a better place. And the idea was to write a book about that, about how civic engagement can improve our lives.
And I think the podcast has been so more multidimensional because I get to meet people, which is so exciting and learn so much more in person. I've read so many books and I've spoken to so many amazing, amazing people. And I think that actually, maybe the biggest takeaway for me here, the biggest surprise for me is that it's so much more hopeful to meet people who do this work. It's really incredible. These people, like I said, they're fearless, they're confident, but also they're incredibly hopeful and they have a lot of faith in humanity and in the good in people. They have faith that whatever they're doing will resonate.
One of the episodes that I want to highlight is with James Doty, who, when we were working together, I remember you were raving about his book. So how was that to speak to one of the authors that you had read?
These authors, they put so much on the line, they bear their souls basically when they write books and with James Doty, he is an incredible human being. To meet him in person, it's the kind of thing where you're just starstruck. You don't expect to meet someone like that. And he is even more impressive in person because he's so calm in a way that you don't really see in other people. He's really living what he's teaching in his book.
So, because Future Hindsight is so mission driven, why the choice of podcasting as opposed to blog articles or videos, for example?
I think podcasts are connected to the mission in a sense that it's almost immediate. So it's the kind of thing where I really, really want people to get in it as soon as possible, like yesterday. With podcasts, I think it's a really efficient way to get that across. I think one of the things, which I also mentioned, was reading takes time in a way. I mean reading is the kind of thing where you really have to think about what you're reading and what you're taking in. And I think with a podcast, of course you do that too. But one of the things that I do with a podcast as I mentioned just now, I try and keep it to about 20 minutes of content so that it's not too much information, otherwise it's a huge overload on your brain. And I think it's a good amount of time for you to learn more deeply about the issues without necessarily having to get a PhD or take a break. I want to be able to deliver it in one go. In a book that's, let's say 200 pages. You're not going to read it in one sitting.
I'm just curious to know from the leap, from writing blog articles, which people can still go find, and your writing is really beautiful as well. What was the learning curve for you to be a podcaster, which seems to be something maybe that you enjoy more as well as, I mean, from what I see it's a really successful medium for you?
Thank you, well it was a steep learning curve. I'll say that I thought about the podcast in the spring/summer of 2017. And we dropped our first episode in January of 2018. And I had some audio, the James Doty audio that summer, and it just didn't work. It was really clunky. Every time I listened to an edit, I thought this is terrible. This is never going to work. And then I interviewed Bernard Harcourt in November of 2017 and he ended up being our pilot episode and it took me two months to edit that. It was so difficult, really, really hard. Now I think we can probably condense that to about a week, but still I spend many hours but fewer hours. There are some things that I now know that I can comfortably cut and then I go through the end and if it's still too long, then I cry a little bit about cutting really great things, but it's really important.
Kill the darlings.
Yeah. Kill the darlings, but it's really important to stay more or less in the timeframe, because it's really important to me that people can consume it in one go, so that's including the intro and the outro and the music and the trailer, that it's 23 to 24 minutes.
When you are constructing your content, how does the process for you differ from the way that it would be to compose a blog article as opposed to being sort of in a dialogue with someone else?
Yeah, it's totally different. So the dialogue of course opens up questions about somebody else's work in some sense. I'd ask about their work, both their physical work and often if they have written a book then also about what they've written and then about the things that I'm curious about myself. So there are, let's say three sources that I can use to compose the questions. And when it comes to writing your own articles, basically, you're really in your head a whole lot more.
It's a fun place to be.
Yeah. I love thinking. But the dialogue is really so rewarding. It's so rewarding because there's that human interaction that you don't have if you're writing on your own.
Let's rewind to before the podcast, before MilaAtmos.com and you had a calling, an itch, a stir that you wanted to put some words, some ideas out into the world. Let's walk through that process. So if the listener is feeling the need to raise their voice in some way, can you share your journey and what made the decision to finally flip the switch and start writing things and sharing them?
I think the biggest impetus to sharing is that I discovered that some of the feelings that I had about life in general are pretty common and that I'm not alone. And I think there's a feeling out there among many people that whatever they're going through is unique in this big life, on this planet.
In these times as well.
In these times, even 10 years ago, 15 years ago, there are a lot of things you go through and you think, oh my goodness, this is so isolating. And it's so lonely. And how am I going through this on my own? But it turns out we're really not doing that. All of us have something very similar going on. And a lot of these life milestones are so common, but we don't think about them that way. And we don't share about them that way because so many people hide these challenges. And so we like to pretend, especially with social media, I would say makes it worse because we like to pretend that our lives are these perfect, shiny objects for show. And that's just not how it actually is.
I'm so glad you brought up social media, because that's what I was about to sort of ask and weave in. I think that it has created a construct of social isolation where people think they have to project something and they can't be authentic. They can't actually share. So what I'm hearing and what I may, and you can correct me, is that there was something going on that you felt the need to make change, so you started to say how, and then you started writing. But one of the things about writing is it's usually a lonely activity. And so now with podcasting, you're getting to have conversations and part of the joy from that. And part of the joy I feel talking to you is realizing that we are not alone, that we all can join together and make change.
Yeah, for sure. I think the thing about podcasting is that these conversations are an act of building community.
Everywhere. Just whether it's comments, likes, sharing articles, etcetera.
Well, the act of building community is also listening to the podcast because I think listening to a podcast is almost an intimate experience today because most of us don't listen the way that we would listen to the radio, on speakers, but we listen on our headphones. And so it almost feels to me that we are part of a dinner conversation, between the host and the guest and the listener and that we're sitting there, the three of us, let's say, and having this discussion.
What do you think with social media and people trying to make change, do you feel it's effective to cause change or do you think it's a waste of time?
I can't speak to the efficacy. I don't know exactly, but I don't think it's a waste of time. A lot of people spend time there and I think it's good for them to see what other people are doing, but I don't know how effective that is in the long term. I do think that people have a concept of how things could be by looking at other people's feeds.
This is a big question and you can laugh at me for asking you. Beyond public service, which is a solution for getting involved, what can we, meaning you, me, the listener do to create this fair and equal world that we all long to be a part of?
I think that depends on each person. So I've learned through talking to all of these people that whatever is your passion is where you should get involved. And that is probably not necessarily being a public servant and working for the government. But if you don't have a passion about something then it's going to be really hard for you to want to show up to meetings, which could be incredibly tedious or to actually execute the action that you have in mind, for example, you want to serve the homeless, or the hungry, and you decide to serve at a soup kitchen.
If this is not your passion, I think that could be really boring for you and very difficult. But if there's something else that you want to do, you should do that. I think everybody can do things differently. There isn't only one way. And that really was a big lesson for me because I think we have this idea that you have to do it a certain way, but not so. I mean, look at Max Kenner, serving prisoners with college education and Joe Hardigan getting ferry service. Those things are kind of random. I mean, not exactly, but they're not what we think of.
Because I just traveled to Indonesia, and now I'm back, and just the difference between Eastern and Western culture, the last episode that you shared, I love this idea of Western democracy is kind of shifting and changing. And it seems that the leaders are becoming less and less focused on the people. Do you think that's accurate?
Well, I think there's a crisis in democracy right now across the globe, not just in Western democracies. I think we're trying to rethink the way that democracy can work for an increasingly globalized culture, that we can see what's happening in England and Africa in China.
All these places that were really very distant to us and vice versa. They can all see what we are doing and in a way I think the fact that the crisis in democracy is worldwide makes perfect sense.
Yeah. And it's not a solution that I think is national. I do think that it is an international and a human sort of initiative that we'll all need to kind of figure out together.
Yeah. I agree. It's a human initiative. And I think people miss that a lot. People think that it's about problem-solving. I think that's not strictly it.
So if problem solving is not it, and I would love to know for you, what are some things that we can do to start to make change?
I think, when you said earlier, it's about humans. I think that's really where we need to start. I will say that repeatedly I've heard this from people who are changemakers that I've interviewed, that they focus on investing in human beings first. And I think that's a great place to start. What does it mean to be a whole human? I think we have not really examined this. And if we decide as a global society that investing in human beings is our priority, then we will make very different kinds of decisions. I think right now we make a lot of decisions about the bottom line and that's not really healthy for all of us.
I would agree. Yeah. In my own work, when I talk to people, they come and they want to build a brand. I ask why do you want to build a brand? And a lot of people, they either want more wealth or they want recognition. And I think that also is a spectrum. And I think that everyone needs to find that middle ground where it's not just about money and it's not just about you, that it's about all of us feeling safe and feeling loved.
Exactly. Definitely. I think having money and also having fame can serve your message. So I think you really have to start with, what is your purpose in terms of, let's say elevating our collective humanity and given your goal, what are the tools that can get you there? And money and fame sometimes have something to do with it, but not always.
I mean, I think it's a shortcut at times, but it's also kind of a tricky thing to navigate sometimes as well. So what I'd also want to know for those who are listening, who say, “I'd love to help out, but I'm just too busy.” What are ways, I want to talk about balance now, that you balance generosity as well as setting up some boundaries of saying no?
Well, people are busy. I actually think that the act of listening to the podcast is a form of civic engagement because at the very least you're becoming more informed. One of the things that I really strive for with Future Hindsight is to give historical context to any issue that we are discussing so that people understand or have a deeper understanding about why that issue's even there. And I think once you have that, you can make very different decisions, let's say at the ballot box, or where you shop, or the way that you are interacting with the homeless on the street, for example. And I think even those things which seem to be pretty small are very meaningful.
Especially when more than one person takes that action. I want to come back to the issues that you've seen come up, how about balancing sacrifice as well as self-care? So if we all need to kind of pitch in a little bit, what's that balance like?
So I would not call it sacrifice. Because at the end of the day, if we're interested in strengthening a social contract, that's not a sacrifice. That is something that is beneficial to you. So I wouldn't call it a sacrifice. That's the first. But in terms of the balance, of course, everybody needs to pay their bills, go to work, take care of their children, all that. I think it's maybe a philosophical stance that you need to take about the way that you go through your life. So if you decide that social injustice is this important to you and it may not be, then I think you will pay attention to your everyday actions in terms of how they translate to your values. And if you can do that, then you're doing a lot.
We live in a crazy city, the greatest city in the world, New York City, where it's a palpable energy of go, go, go. However, how do you find the time to sit still, find your thoughts, find the path to take. So how do you balance the hustle required to run an incredible podcast and then also have the quiet time to figure out what your next moves are?
I do it with difficulty. Let's start there. It's not easy. I work a lot on the weekends is the answer. And I try to do as much thinking and reading as I can on the weekends when I don't have to shuttle to and from places and "get things done." So I try to really make room as well when I'm reading and doing research. I try not to read a book in two days because then it allows me to really think about what I'm reading and get prepared for an interview in a way that gives me more room and a little bit more mental space to come up with the questions that I really want to ask. I think if you have a little bit more time, then you can ask deeper questions.
So, what are some of your routines? And you can speak to the podcast specifically, to the podcast creation and distribution, but also for you as a human citizen, what are some of the daily routines or weekly routines that you've put in place to be an effective changemaker?
Well, I think with a podcast often there isn't really that much routine because part of it is that, you have to interview someone when they're available. And so sometimes you're interviewing two or three people in the same day. And at the end of that, I think my brain is totally loopy, but as much as I can I like to do a lot of prepping beforehand. So let's say if I have a guest on who did a movie and a book, I will watch a movie, I will read the book and I will see other interviews on YouTube or listen to other podcasts where they may have been on. And then I like to really understand where they're coming from. And have a good sense of who they are as human beings. And that takes a lot of time, but it's the kind of thing where, if I would say there's a routine, it's a routine of really getting to know the guest before I meet the guest.
It's an easier process. So back to issues, what are some of the issues currently that you're passionate about?
I would say that my number one issue, the way that I see it in terms of human investment is education and education is not limited to just, pre-K, but also about malnutrition, about housing, about safety, because you can't be a good student and benefit from a good education if your housing isn't safe, if you have food insecurity and if your parents don't have money. I think poverty is a huge issue. And I think that education in many ways is the answer. But the problem with education is that unless you are secure, you actually cannot take in any of the education. So to me, those things are very deeply intertwined. But I do think that education is going to be the answer to a lot of our problems, but it takes time. It's going to take at least 30 years.
And do you think that's primarily early education or just education for all ages?
Education for all ages. Having said that, the research is very clear that early education is the best way to spend your education dollars because your brain plasticity is so high at that age, between zero and five, so that if you could spend all your money there, I would. Having said that, as we've seen with college education in prison, it's really not too late. It's really not too late, but there are many things that we could avoid by educating our youngest learners first.
So speaking of Hindsight, what experiences for you in the past have created the powerful, thoughtful, and effective woman that you are today?
I was a history major when I was in college. I really, really love history. And I'm a firm believer that if we understand our history better, we can make just better decisions going forward. We can really understand the context of many of the issues that face us. And if we don't have the historical context, then we are often missing, let's say obvious solutions to problems. And also when we have the historical context, we have a better idea of what is in fact the issue. What I've discovered in traditional media is that often what's being covered is the smokescreen, but not actually the issue. And so what they do then is they are presenting us with sort of the polar opposites within the realm of an issue, let's say.
But in fact, the meat of the matter is often somewhere in between. And that's also often where you can find ideas. But if you're talking about sort of, yes, no, that's really not going to get you there. You have to talk about the gray area, about the things that are really difficult and start there.
I want to see first, do you have an example of a smokescreen for traditional media?
Oh, for sure, fake news. People talk about something being fake news. But then they don't talk about actually what was being covered. So, for example, there was a fake Washington Post paper a few months ago I think at the beginning of the year, at the height of the government shutdown. And it said there that the president left office on May 1st, so this was meant to be happening on May 1st. And it's a fake paper obviously. And it called for removing the president, etcetera, etcetera. And I talked to one of the authors and she said, you know what was really interesting is that the media covered it as fake news, but they didn't cover the meat of the matter, which is that it was calling for the president to leave office.
And I thought, yeah, that's exactly it. This happens all the time. People talk about, oh, but this thing is not proper, but it doesn't talk about what it actually wants you to do, which is to think about removing the president from office.
I have a client who is a journalist who works on the news. And it's interesting the relationship, even in my own career trajectory, from new media to old media and going back to our conversation about social, what are ways that you research the meat of the matter? So if you hear a story, I guess what I'd like to say is like, how are some ways that we can figure out what that gray area is and what the kernel might be?
Yeah. As a history major, I can tell you that the first thing you need to do is go to the primary source. So if there is somebody's speech, then you need to read the speech yourself or watch it yourself. Don't read about what the pundits are saying about said speech, or for example, right now everybody's talking about the Mueller report. I highly recommend you pick up a copy and read all 448 pages. It's revelatory, let's say in a way that it isn't when you read about somebody else having read the report. And when you read the primary source, you will find the meat of the matter.
So meat of the matter, what can we look forward to in season six of Future Hindsight?
So we are looking at the efficacy of different types of civic action, lots of protesters, and some people who don't do protests. So we, for example, are speaking to L.A. Kauffman. She was one of the organizers of the 2003 and 2004 Iraq war protests. And she wrote a beautiful book called How to Read a Protest. And she did some research on the 1963 March on Washington and compared it to more recent protests and what we can discover there and how we can think about protests and the efficacy of protests.
But I also talked to Brad Fitch. He is the President of the Congressional Management Foundation. And what he does is he teaches us to be our own advocates, to our elected representatives in Congress and as it turns out, it's relatively simple to call up your representative in the house and say, I'm going to Washington DC and I would like to meet you. I am a constituent in your district and your rep will meet with you, and you can talk about an issue that's important to you. And he tells us exactly how in the interview, it's really fascinating and really, really easy. I mean, I don't want to say easy. It's really, really efficient. It's a really great way to talk to somebody who's in the legislature who can help you potentially with what's being proposed
And beyond season six, what is your vision for Future Hindsight?
So the big picture is that I want more people to be civically engaged, but at the very least listen to the podcast and really be better versed on the issues and understand that there are many ways in which we can get involved at the very very least.
So then what are all the different ways that we can find the show?
So you can find the show online at FutureHindsight.com and you can find it on any streaming app: on Apple Podcasts, on Stitcher, on Spotify, SoundCloud, we're everywhere, anywhere you stream podcasts, you can find us.
Well. Mila, thank you so much. And I want to close by wishing you personally a Happy Mother's Day.
And one final question, and again, it's kind of a big one. The purpose for my podcast is conversations with changemakers. And as you may know, my tagline is Design Your Future. So with that, what would be your vision as a mother for the world not only that we're living in, but like the world that you want your children and your grandchildren to live in?
That's in part why I created Future Hindsight. I wanted to have these conversations. I wanted to increase civic engagement because in the future when I look back at this time, I want to be the kind of person who did something about this, who didn't talk about strengthening the social contract, but actually did it. And so this is in fact my form of public service in a way that I'm trying to spread the word and highlight to other people what the ways are in which they can get engaged and to inspire the audience the many ways that they can do so.
But also to showcase the people who have done this amazing work and to celebrate them to say, here are all of these amazing, amazing people. And we don't even know that they exist often and they work behind the scenes, like, Maria Foscarinis, she's so impressive. She created something called the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty, literally all by herself in 1989, because she felt so passionate about it. And I think we often forget that people like that are all around us. And so this is the world that I want to live in. And if we don't talk about that, then we don't know.
One of the takeaways that I'm getting from this conversation is that we're not alone. And the easiest thing that we can do is talk about it to each other. So I want to start off by saying thank you so much for everything that you've shared with us today, Mila, as well as the work that you've shared with the world. And the only thing that I'd ask you to leave us with and share with us is some sort of a message of maybe what we need to hear in order to take the next step.
So I would say that the next step is to be a champion for humans. Think about our common humanity and promote humanism.
Sounds pretty easy. Mila, thank you so much for joining me and thank you for sharing, not only your time with us today, but also all of the time that you've put into Future Hindsight, as well as even before that all of your writing, it's quite stunning and as a friend, I'd like to tell you, I'm very proud of you.
Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.
Thank you so much for listening. And once again, thank you to Mila for being my guest. I think my biggest takeaways were that none of us are alone and we all have the power, if not the responsibility to make change. I love that she said to focus on service that you're passionate about, and that is the best way to contribute. And then maybe the last thing is that we really do have to go to the source to truly stay informed. Now, I want to hear what you took away from this episode. So if you would snap a screenshot, share your takeaway with me and also tag Future Hindsight so that Mila can see it.
Personally I would also love if you would go write a review on this show in the iTunes store. While you're there, go check out Future Hindsight as they just launched their season six yesterday. You can find direct links to the episodes that Mila mentioned as well as my favorite episodes in our show notes. And for even more of Mila's incredible work, go check out FutureHindsight.com or MilaAtmos.com for her writing.
Now don't forget about the events ahead on May 17th and May 26th. Those details are below. And if you want to continue to take part in FREE amazing things, come on over to TonyHowell.me and join our community.
I would love to hear from you on social media. I am @TonyHowell and make sure that you use the hashtag #AsianFutureMonth to shout out someone that you admire this month.
Thank you so much for listening and subscribing and sharing your takeaways with me. And I can't wait to connect with you soon.