Forum: Finding your community

James and Deborah Fallows, best-selling authors, delivered the forum address to campus on Tuesday. They talked about the hope and solutions they’ve seen in uncovering beloved communities across America.

Referencing their best-selling book and HBO documentary, “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America,” the Fallowses explained how integrating into small towns faced with various challenges has informed their views on the beloved community.

“Our job this morning is to give you reasons to feel some hope about the communities you’re living in, hope about the world you will inhabit and shape,” said James.

James and Deborah Fallows 2022 forum

Photo by Brooklynn Jarvis/BYU

However, because of elevated national strife in recent years, the Fallowses recognize that their optimism isn’t typical.

“To be hopeful in these times is counterintuitive and goes against the thrust of what we hear in the news,” James admitted.

But the Fallowses remain firm in their hopes for America, and they proposed a new type of optimism: conditional optimism, which is the belief that a community can become better through individual contributions and civic engagement.

When citizens develop a mindset of “this will be our home; we will make things better here,” said James, then hope becomes brighter and more realistic.

The Fallowses also identified three primary ways that communities can manage challenges and become more united:

1. Utilize public institutions in towns – especially libraries

Deborah Fallows explained that public libraries are exceptional at building strong associations across the community, acting as “second responders” in crises and creating an environment of acceptance and trust.
“Public institutions like libraries knit people together,” Deborah explained.

2. Engage in the arts 

Murals, sculptures and other local art often include a town’s individual history or visualizations of the future. Because of this, the Fallowses explained, the public arts can help people become more aware of their contributions and how they are connected to their community.Hidden image

“The arts ask questions of the future: Who are we, and who do we want to be in this community?”

3. Involve the next generation

The Fallowses told a story of a young man in Eastport, Maine who’s merging his passions, the community’s economy and his education into a better future. However, his example and entrepreneurial spirit can be an intimidating goal for others, admitted the Fallowses.In addition to their three recommendations, the Fallowses offered several specific little civic actions we can take to change our communities:

  • Engage in anything in your community, even small acts of service like picking up trash!
  • Run for an elected office or support local elections
  • Support local journalism efforts
  • When in doubt, plant a tree
  • Think about how you can invite someone different from you into your life and help them feel comfortable in the community

America has been pockmarked by decades of crises, but our moment in time also contains unusual flourishing at the local level, said the Fallowses.Hidden image

“As you find your communities, as you build your communities and as you have your communities renew themselves, you will set an example for the nation and the world.”

Next devotional

Elder Vern P. Stanfill, General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will deliver the next devotional address on Tuesday, March 1, at 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center.His remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM, and SiriusXM 143. Video, text, and audio are archived on speeches.byu.edu.