Earlier this year, Lane Unhjem was harvesting wheat on his North Dakota farm, when smoke began pouring out of his combine. As he was trying to figure out what was going on, a fire broke out around him. Some of his neighbors rushed to help him put out the flames. In the middle of all of this, Lane suffered a massive heart attack and was airlifted to the hospital where his heart stopped three times.

Miraculously, doctors were able to save his life. His unfinished harvest was now what needed saving.

Knowing their friend and neighbor needed help, more than 60 other farmers stopped their own harvests and showed up to Lane’s farm with their equipment to work. The 1,000 acres would have taken Lane weeks to harvest, instead taking his neighbors eight hours. Their compassion saved Lane’s harvest and his livelihood.

Dear 2020: You showed us who was boss, but also gave us humanity and compassion
The election is over. It’s time to unite
The politics of division have no place going forward

Like Lane, 2020 has not been kind to us. Whether we lost someone, got sick or have been unable to live our normal lives, sometimes it feels like our proverbial combine caught fire.

Unlike Lane’s friends, we seem to have lost our spirit of compassion. Some in our country selfishly reject any COVID-19 restriction, forgetting that the aim of the restrictions is to lower the risk of those who may become sick and that the sooner we stop people from getting sick, the sooner the economy and our lives can go back to normal. 

Others in our country love nothing more than to claim moral superiority over those they deem to be less than compliant with COVID restrictions, not even trying to understand why someone would try going to church or go to their grandparent’s funeral. Simply, we are proud and lacking compassion. Some of us think we’re above suggested COVID-19 restrictions or above those who fail to follow the restrictions.

The truth is, the COVID-19 crisis is extremely hard. Our normal way of life has been upended and we’re still not sure when we’ll go back to normal. No one was fully prepared to know how to live in a pandemic in the year 2020 or beyond. Despite this, we press on, doing the best we can. 

Like putting out the fire on Lane’s combine, vaccines for the coronavirus may be the first step in our recovery from this year, but it isn’t the only step. In the same way that Lane needed his friends and neighbors to step up and help him in his time of need, we all need each other to step up and be more compassionate.

If we don’t learn how to be compassionate now, future crises may only divide us and weaken us more in the future.

Our country is divided. If we don’t learn how to be compassionate now, future crises may only divide us and weaken us more in the future. What happens when another populist runs for president and wins — by telling his supporters the “other” side hates them and that he will fight these enemies? At best, we get a repeat of recent years, being led by a selfish and divisive president. At worst, the populist drives his supporters to violence.

If we can change our trajectory, showing a little more compassion and charity, Americans will know the “other” side is not their enemy. With compassion, we can become stronger and more capable to defend against legitimate threats.

Making the year 2021 better than 2020 may depend on our ability to be compassionate with each other. Lane Unhjem’s friends remind us all that compassion is part of our DNA as Americans. We just need to get better at acting on it. 

Bryant Holloway is a program associate for the pro-democracy organization, Stand Up Republic.