I’ve been captivated by the television series Heroes, which ran from 2006 to 2010. My favorite line is “My name is Hiro Nakamura, and I am here to save you.” Hiro says this to a woman he eventually comes to love, but he isn’t able to save her. Nakamura, played by Masi Oka, is my favorite character because even after tragedy and failure, he regains his good humor and persists with his (first) mission to save New York City from being devastated by a nuclear explosion. The line he repeats rings and resonates in my head most days.
Although New York is unlikely to be devastated by a nuclear explosion in the near future, the world itself seems to be exploding, imploding, or just spiraling into more craziness, depending on the week’s events.
Even as Europe slips into another recession and the citizens of Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain languish without jobs, incomes, or much of a social safety net, the EU’s economic and political leaders call for continued austerity, which deepens the downward spiral.
In the U.S., as the economy begins to recover and corporate profits rise, the middle class shrinks and the poor become poorer. In spite of the poor economic status of many U.S. citizens, Congress tries to cut the SNAP program. In spite of the fact that the unemployment rate for recent college graduates remains high at 8.8% and starting salaries are shrinking, Congress has allowed the interest rate on student loans to double, from 3.4% to 6.8%. The death toll from gun violence since the shootings at Newtown, CT, is up to at least 5,556 (as reported at Slate.com; the CDC estimate is 16,686), and we’re only half way through the year. Still Congress doesn’t consider gun control legislation.
Meanwhile, good economic news is also bad. As the economy is recovering, the housing market is beginning to pick up. But Congress never enacted sufficient regulation of the financial system; so as the housing market heats up, it is possible that the same types of events that set the stage for the 2007-2008 financial meltdown are reoccurring.
Meanwhile, skilled professionals who have been out of work since 2008 can’t find jobs because they’ve been out of work, or they took the initiative to start their own business, or they are over 45, or all three. And yet they have exactly the expertise and qualities that companies say they are looking for.
Meanwhile, companies are worried that they are about to see massive employee turnover as people see the potential to find a better job elsewhere. They say they want to hire people for the long term. But everyone knows that at the first sign of another economic downturn, she or he will be laid off. Can you expect loyalty from employees if you are not willing or able to offer loyalty to them? Of course, we could just lie to each other.
Meanwhile, the New Economics Institute’s video on income and wealth inequality recently (well, back in March 2013) went viral. The video’s point is that inequality is much worse than we thought it was. My guess is that I’m the last person to hear about this and that prospects, particularly for those in the middle and at the bottom, are really bad.
Where, I wonder, is Hiro?
Hiro Nakamura has been described as having a “cheerful optimistic personality…with misguided notions about how the world functions…a very childish and immature character in many ways; simple things are enough to delight him and cheer him up…no matter the circumstances.” (Biography for Hiro Nakamura, IMDb.com) If Hiro has a philosophy it is that “what one does can affect the future.”
Although naïve in some ways, Hiro is sublimely wise in others. From glimpses of his future self, it becomes apparent that he loses his naïveté once he perceives the pattern that is unfolding. But he never reins in his sense of justice and responsibility or his willingness to use his abilities for the benefit of others.
I didn’t realize how many awards Heroes won—26—until I looked it up on IMDb.com for this blog post; the series was nominated for more than 80 awards. It won television program of the year from the American Film Institute in 2007. The AFI said, in part, “…Tim Kring’s ambitious…drama not only entertains with super-human abilities, but it speaks to an audience that yearns for hope in a world where cynicism abounds. …its separate story lines… share a message for the global community—within each of us is a stronger, better self with special abilities beyond what we can even imagine. “
I know I can answer the question “Where is Hiro?” if I look in the mirror. You’ll also find where Hiro is if you look in the mirror. I know that—even working together—like Hiro, we can’t save everyone. The world is a sorrowful place, and shit happens. But it’s possible to willingly and cheerfully take responsibility for what we can, to be delighted by simple things, and to reach for our stronger and better selves.
Addendum: I was toying with the idea of starting Hiro groups, kind of like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In groups. But, truly, we don’t need another organization. We need to participate more in the ones that already exist—Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Project Bread, your local Occupy group, wherever you can do the most good and help the greatest number of people in a way that brings joy into your life.