Microwaves Aren't Always Best in Life and Politics

PHOTO: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked that the Confederate battle flag be removed from the state capitol in the wake of the shootings at Emanuel AME church.ABC News
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked that the Confederate battle flag be removed from the state capitol in the wake of the shootings at Emanuel AME church.

Vinnie Johnson, a crucial sixth man player on the Detroit Pistons’ championship teams of 1989 and 1990, was known for his ability to “heat up” in a hurry off the bench and quickly score. Because of this Johnson, a graduate of Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, was known as the Microwave. But does this ability translate well into politics and life, and would the namesake of Johnson’s high school approve in our current presidential campaign cycle?

The rise of technology today with smart phones, Internet, social networking and hundreds of media outlets has been in many ways incredibly positive. We can see this for ourselves, and has been thoroughly documented. However, a big downside of this increased information, access and speed has been to create a culture of microwaveable decisions in our personal lives and our politics.

We all can get answers fast, and we want answers fast. We text or email our friends and loved ones, and if we have to wait more than an hour, we get upset or start reading something into it. And they expect the same thing of us. We think we have to respond immediately to any communication or event because that is how technology works. And this creates a lack of space for thoughtfulness or deep consideration, and by seeking microwave responses we often miss out on what is really going on.

We don’t let people sit long enough with information or a feeling. We don’t them ponder for a bit and give them space to reach a measured decision. And when we want an instant answer from a loved one we often interrupt their growth and evolution. We don’t give them time to process through what is going on or what they are hearing or feeling so they can understand it. And the result many times is a bunker mentality of sticking to old ways because that feels the safest.

While food from a microwave may get us calories in a hurry, it isn’t often nourishing and is not usually a meal to be savored, enjoyed, and remembered. So too in our politics today. Because of the demands for quick turnarounds on communications (a term was even invented -- “rapid response”), we don’t give politicians or much anyone else a comfortable and secure space for deep thoughtfulness. We don’t allow leaders (or even personal partners) to evolve because we want engagement now and a response immediately.

I was reminded of this as I watched the controversy over the Confederate flag in South Carolina unfold. Yes, many of us had reached a quick conclusion that it should come down, and asked for that. But others, like Governor Nikki Haley took a little while longer to come to this same conclusion. She evolved on this issue, but it took some time. And then she was criticized by many on the left for not deciding faster or for deciding after only getting pressured. Keep in mind she just took a couple of days of thoughtfulness.

It seems that if a leader is a member of your political team and they switch positions, you celebrate this as great. If that leader is on the opposite political team, you say it took her way too long or she did it only under political pressure. Folks, I have a news flash for you -- most change that occurs in this world, and by leaders, is under pressure from the public. Leaders seldom really lead, they follow where the country is already going. That is why we have free speech and a democracy. And it is funny to keep in mind that it took Bill and Hillary Clinton and President Obama years to support gay marriage, and when they finally came to that position, their supporters cheered it and didn’t castigate them for taking too long.

I am hoping that each of us, including myself, can allow our leaders and our loved ones more space for thoughtful consideration. We set down our smartphones for a moment and allow people the time to get smarter in their own evolution. We used to give the freedom to our Presidential candidates for this room to grow. If you look back at Franklin Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln, they would go from town to town and group to group, continually evolving their speeches and getting input from folks along the way. They didn’t have to have it perfect from day one. We allowed them to learn and evolve as they took time and input.

If we don’t give folks a bit of time and the power of considerate learning, we will likely only get back the predictable unsatisfying empty microwave result. I get the quick need of a Hot Pocket, but it certainly isn’t as gratifying and filling as a home-cooked Italian meal.

We must start giving other people this space, so that we feel the right to preserve that space for ourselves. I get some decisions in life, and by leaders, have to be made quickly, but those are few and far between. And if we haven’t given someone the slow time in many decisions to figure out the alignment of their values and actions, then when it comes time for the need for speed the likelihood of a bad decision increases dramatically.

I always loved the “Microwave” Vinnie Johnson, but his plays only worked in the context of a well thought out structure and team play. He played the game well in spurts because the entire team devoted time, energy and patience to create an evolving model that worked in those key moments.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.