Overview: Adam Williams, creator and host of Humanitou, digs into his own “humanness and creativity,” going into those corners he so often asks his guests to vulnerably explore on the podcast. He talks about how his immense curiosity led him into the U.S. Army, and now guides Humanitou. He talks about leadership and empathy, communication and connection as humans who experience different yet relatable stories. He talks about why Humanitou exists and what its place is in his world. … In this solo episode of the Humanitou Podcast.
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EP 97 SHOW NOTES, LINKS & TRANSCRIPT
Brian Turner: Here, Bullet
“Seinfeld” video clip: “Airing of Grievances” (starts at 1:10)
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Media Kit for Humanitou
Credit: Becca Williams, Thought Distillery
“Tupac Lives” by John Bartmann | freemusicarchive.org
Hey, welcome to Humanitou. I’m Adam Williams, the creator and host of this podcast series that shines light on humanness and creativity.
If you’ve been following along with Humanitou the past handful of months, since its re-birth, so to speak, in podcast form, then you know that most of what happens here is about me talking with guests about their lived experiences, their life stories, and their place in the world, really, and their views on it.
Those conversations usually amount to 60 to 90 minutes of our learning about how the guest lives humanness and creativity. And then, in each episode, I also ask listeners — I ask you: How do you live humanness and creativity in your life?
So today, I’m getting into my own exploration of humanness and creativity with you. That I produce this podcast — and have been publishing Humanitou content online for three-plus years now — of course, is a big piece of my own story, my own expression of being creative and human in the world.
But it’s time I at least try to go deeper, because here’s the thing: I feel a responsibility not to just put that question on you, or put it on guests on the podcast. I don’t ask my sons to do things I’m not willing to do. I’ve never asked workmates or sports teammates to do that, either.
I think doing otherwise treats life like it’s a hierarchy, like there’s a gap between me and you. And with Humanitou, asking questions and putting other people on the spot to answer to me isn’t really the gig, as I see it.
Being curious and learning, and facilitating human, emotional, intellectual and creative connections is what I’m trying to accomplish here. And to make those connections, I think I’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable along with everyone else, not just put guests out there to jump through hoops for me.
So I’m going to explore this thing myself, out loud, right here. But first … let’s take a breath while the transition music rolls. Then we’ll jump into this thing of humanness and creativity that I have stamped Humanitou as being all about.
[TRANSITION MUSIC ]
Alright. What does it mean to live humanness and creativity? You can think about that for yourself while I see what flow I find here, but for me, Humanitou itself has to be part of my answer.
That sort of feels a bit meta to me, in a funny way … to be talking on the Humanitou Podcast about how Humanitou itself is key to my own expression of being human and creative, which is what I say Humanitou is all about. Very circular. But anyway …
When I talk with guests, like I said, for 60 to 90 minutes about all this human stuff, and then finish by asking them more directly about their humanness and creativity, I like to give them a variation of the question about how they live it in their lives. It gets to be a sort of summary thought.
And lately, I’ve been asking that wrap-up question in some way like this: What are your core values, what matters to you at heart, to how you live and show up in your life?
And you know what? I have never explicitly answered that question myself … not even for myself, and certainly not for sharing on this podcast with you — until now.
If I start with a word association thing to answer about my core values, which is what I did with a notepad and pen to kick off my flow of thoughts here — actually, maybe that would help you, too — here’s what I came up with for today:
My values include showing up, showing up consistently and ready to participate. It includes shining light, being a good dad, practicing the recognizing and honoring of my own legitimate, real, authentic Self that is unadulterated by others, even or especially when impostor syndrome is working overtime. And rippling out the good to others as much as possible.
I also am big on clear and thoughtful communication, on being kind but direct, being willing to be direct in solving problems efficiently and not avoiding them, in working together to make things better, to make life a win-win.
And leadership is super-important to me, especially the idea of leading from where we are, no matter where we are in our family, our community, and in the structures, the systems, and perceived hierarchies that we encounter in daily life, like socially or at work.
Those systems often lack honest, courageous leadership, and they really need us to step forward with strength and integrity, and without waiting to be granted someone else’s permission to be there, to be of use, to be a light when it’s needed. And it’s always needed.
Truth is at the heart for me, being trustworthy for others and being able to trust others.
And curiosity. Curiosity is huge. This one especially leads me back to why I do Humanitou, and how Humanitou is an expression of my own interest in the honest, human stuff.
My take is that there’s a thread of humanity that runs through each of us and it connects us, it binds us all together. When one person shares their experiences of joy and challenge, and trauma and resilience, and things that are funny and things that are scary, things that hurt, then we all can feel it with them. We all have our own stories that help us to “get it,” that help us to connect.
LIke I often say about all this: in others’ stories, we can hear our own; we can know ourselves through each other, and vice-versa. These conversations then for Humanitou, ultimately, are about empowering connection. First with ourselves, and then with others. You know … You with you. Me with me. You with me. Us with others. It ripples the good from the center of impact out.
Humanitou, as an extension of my interests in the world, also so much is about empathy. And we can feel that even when the specifics of a story, the details, sound different than our own.
True fact here: We have not all been a human cannonball with Ringling Bros., like my episode 15 guest, Elliana Grace. And we haven’t all had to overcome the death of a sibling as a child or committed to a monastic Buddhist life, like Sister Ayya Dhammadhira in episode five, or been a 10-year-old boy whose father dies and we’re left to figure out things, to figure out how to rise from poverty and gang violence to become a nationally prominent chef on TV and owner of multiple restaurants, like Chef Brother Luck, who talks with me in episode 18, coming up next week.
But … we all know what fear feels like, what loss feels like, what the consequences of life choices feel like. We’ve had our own. We’ve all had our own versions of risk-taking and triumph, too. … We all have a story. We all have humanness and creativity to talk about.
That immense curiosity that I have to understand and care about others’ stories, their experiences and their perspectives, it’s what drives me and Humanitou. It leads me to reach out to prospective guests, and it guides my research and preparation, and my questions as our conversations for the podcast unfold.
In fact, I’ll let you in on a behind-the-scenes thing here, about how my curiosity and the process of digging into research for guests and preparing for the conversations with them gets my energies flowing.
As I find more and more information online, articles the person has been part of before, things they’ve created and published and put out into the world for celebration and criticism, the podcasts they’ve been part of before, and telling pieces of their life stories and their work, I get this sense of urgency and amazement. I become a fan, an advocate. I get kind of attached.
I’m learning hints of what this person is about and how they show up in the world, what they create and contribute, areas they have expertise in, and things they have overcome in their lives to keep on with it all.
When the guest has put a lot out into the world, and has been part of so much, someone like Brother Luck, who I said is coming up on the show next week, or Lisa Congdon, who is featured in episode 16, which was released last week, at first, it’s a bombardment of the senses for me.
It’s an overload from so many virtual doorways to their story, and somehow I have to figure out how to slow my heart rate down from the excitement — and the anxiety of how to take it all on — and breathe enough to choose a path and start to absorb information, knowing that I have a small mountain of distillation work to do.
I find and harvest the information, then sift through and refine my understanding of what’s there, and clarify what my personal questions of curiosity are, what the questions listeners — what you — might like to be able to ask the guest, if given the chance to sit with them and ask.
I see myself as a conduit. That broadly is another way I express humanness and creativity in my life. Spiritually, I see that I am a conduit of what the gods send through me, the light that I have to share with the world — just like you have.
More specifically, I serve as a conduit through Humanitou, as a voice for listeners and an amplifier for guests.
I take seriously the honor of being trusted to honestly, compassionately, faithfully fulfill that function, to be seen as someone who guests feel comfortable with, and who listeners can count on to be sincere and thoughtful, and to be willing to dig into spaces with guests that aren’t always easy to go into.
Really, how do we talk about politics, faith, sexuality, identity, and the traumas of life, and cultivate dialogues that are vulnerable and meaningful when so much of what we’re taught in society is not to talk about these things, not to open ourselves up to connection out of fear it will lead instead to disconnection, to stress, to conflict and to whatever else we fear?
I not only am looking to quench something of my curiosity with these conversations, but to help guests feel good about their sharing, and to help listeners find a satisfying connection with them.
It’s a balancing act of being the journalist I used to be, and being willing to communicate honestly and directly to ask about a tough experience in a person’s story, while honoring the person who is sharing it.
It matters to me how I serve up questions for a guest to not feel put on the spot, not feel poked at or provoked, yet be able to bring up a question that goes into a meaningful, vulnerable and even usually private place, and have that person feel cared about and safe, so they can share it without fear of judgment or whatever it is they most fear.
I think my humanness is on the table in those moments. Am I trustworthy? Am I being a good listener? Am I being compassionate in what I’m asking and how I’m asking it, and in how I’m listening to the response? Am I serving the guest who was generous in being part of this with me? Am I serving you as the listener and helping you to connect with what you need from me?
Sometimes, I think out loud to my wife about all this and wonder if I’m taking it too seriously, if I’m thinking too much about all this, if I’m spending too much time with each step of this process. And if what I really should do is just be the opposite, just wing it and not care how it goes.
But the answer every time that arises for me, is I have to be me and do this my way, do this how it feels right to me. It’s the honest way, the only way.
And to me, an expression of my humanness is to put the compassionate thought and care into the whole process, from research to final editing. Small talk and surface-level stuff isn’t where my curiosity lies. It’s not what I feel.
Humanitou is a practice of humanness and creativity for me: the facilitation of this vulnerable, courageous sharing and connection.
You know, I’m going to stick with my curiosity line of thought a bit longer here, because I see a doorway to something that feels even more vulnerable and I want to walk through it. I want to keep forging ahead here.
I’ve been incredibly curious for as long as I can remember. I grew up in middle America. Small town, predominantly white, probably more or less exclusively Christian. Very vanilla. And all the TV shows and movies and news reports were about somewhere else, anywhere else. I wanted to know more for myself about what was out there.
And one of the biggest experiences of out there I grew up knowing anything about was related to my dad having been drafted into the U.S. Army in the late 60s, and then going to Vietnam, a place so different from what I knew and under circumstances so loaded with weight I could only imagine or read about or see depicted on movie screens.
And my curiosity was why I felt so achingly compelled to travel in the world when I was old enough to do it on my own, to see, hear, taste and learn things for myself directly, first-hand, not just in skewed history books or on screens. It’s why I even wanted to know war, the experience of it, the consequences and hurt caused by it. First hand.
In fact, I did join the Army. In 1998. I enlisted after graduating college. It was a way to take that chance, to get out in the world, to serve a greater good, to possibly know the unconscionable. It was, in part, out of compassion for those who experience those horrors in the world, who live such different existences than what I had known, the families living in the midst of it all. And the combatants who carry out the things that plague them emotionally, spiritually and psychologically forever after.
To be clear, I never did go to war. I ended up being sent not to a hotbed of conflict, like in Afghanistan or Iraq, but to South Korea. Which I guess made the most sense, given the fact I was trained by the Army to be a Korean linguist. If war wasn’t going to set off again, going to flare up again, on the Korean Peninsula, which it didn’t while I was there, then I wasn’t ever going to end up in combat. It was that simple.
So, incidentally, it turns out that the closest I have come to resolving that curiosity I’ve held since childhood in felt sort of way, has come from the work of a war poet by the name of Brian Turner.
A side note here about Turner, for those who are interested: His first poetry collection, published in 2005, was “Here, Bullet.” And about that book, a reviewer for the New York Times, at the time it was published referred to how, back in 1969, it had been said after the first human walked on the moon, “Someday they’ll send a poet, and we’ll find out what it’s really like.”
That’s how I feel about Turner’s work, especially. More than from all the movies and the history books. His poetry put me there and let me feel things I’ll never know directly, at this point — well, unless we end up in a civil war here in the U.S. again. I’ll add a link to “Here, Bullet” in the show notes.
But … Curiosity drives me. A desire to know intimately and to feel, drives me. It drives Humanitou. And when I can’t know something directly, personally, like someone else’s lived experience, then the next best thing is to have a real conversation with them.
In fact, talking about feeling, the importance of empathetically connecting through the heart, through emotions … Life, to me, sometimes — especially lately, in these circumstances we’re all living with right now — seems like a practice of balancing what I feel as the painful weight of the world, and how that gets me down, and how it gets me down on people, that vague collection of egos and personalities that often seems saturated with selfishness and ignorance, anger, greed and, overall, a lack of empathy. In those moments, I’m tempted to just toss it all, to turn my back, to detach, disconnect.
You know, in a funny way, it reminds me of the character Frank Costanza on Seinfeld. If you know Seinfeld, you’ll probably remember this scene.
He stands at the dinner table during his annual celebration of Festivus and kicks off his traditional airing of grievances with this line: “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people! Now you’re going to hear about it!”
But that’s not me. I’m not going to get on Twitter and start raging, and I’m not going to stand at the table and start pounding. I just feel the anxiety and the hurt, and want to withdraw from the senselessness of it all.
And then, simultaneously, I hold a love and a passion for the amazingness, the capabilities within human beings, within each of you, each of us, like the vulnerable human stories I learn about and connect with through Humanitou. What you do to create, to breathe, to triumph in your life is astounding. And I hope me too.
That’s the mix I balance — the sometimes fine line I walk — in the process of being human and trying to create good in the world through Humanitou.
Another thing I often have said during the outro at the very end of podcast episodes refers to our creating the world we wish to live in, and doing it together.
So, I’ll boil it down to this: This thing — Humanitou — ultimately is a practice of curiosity on my part, of sharing a practice of empathy, and of creating more of what I want — and I think more of what you want — to be in this world. It’s about empowering, facilitating connection, and recognition of the fact that we are all connected.
Today, that’s my answer to how I live humanness and creativity in my life. It’s a living, ever-emerging and evolving thing. It is for all of us.
But still, now, I ask the question of you again: How do you live humanness and creativity in your life? Let me know. You can send me an email if you’d like to share your answer with me. Just hold on a minute and, after the music rolls again, I’ll give you my address.
And one last thing, remember that you can hear the answers to that question, or some version of it, from guests on the Humanitou Podcast at the end of each of the conversations I have with them.
Everyone’s answer is different and is compelling food for thought in its own way.
Thanks for listening to how I connect the dots of Humanitou and my own expression of humanness and creativity today.
If you have comments or topical suggestions for a future solo episode of Humanitou — and if you want to share your answer to the question I asked you about your humanness and creativity a few moments ago — you can reach me by email at adam @ humanitou.com, or by Instagram DM @humanitou.
Information and links related to people and works mentions in this episode are in the show notes at humanitou.com, where you also can subscribe to Humanitou’s monthly email newsletter.
Until the next episode …
I’m Adam Williams, creator and host of the Humanitou podcast.
Thanks for being here.