On our way to enjoy Zion Canyon we passed by a couple hitchhikers a few miles from the park’s entrance. Both were young twenty-somethings, unshaven, worn a bit from their travels so far. One held a sign that said “Good Montana Boys.” My wife was endeared by the sign and my assessment of their expensive backpacking gear and fly rod tubes brought us around to offer them a lift through the canyon to Highway 89.
We pulled off the road across from their hitching position and I asked where they were going.
“The Grand Canyon,” said the taller one.
That’s noble enough, I thought, still sizing them up.
“We’ll take you to 89 if you like.”
They smiled genuinely and crossed the road, stashed their packs in the back of our SUV and climbed into the back seat.
That moment of truth. The introductions, the hand shakes, the proximity in which other tells can be discerned such as the eyes, the odor, the agreement between the smiles and the crows feet. Check, check, check. I felt comfortable enough to proceed.
In that short time I was fighting a perceptual influence, one that we all spar with in making new acquaintances; what we begin to imply versus what we’ve taken the time to discern, even if that time is a small moment.
Hitch hiking has an entirely different set of stereotypes than it did a couple of generations ago. The adventurer, the wayfarer, the wanderer has been replaced with the homeless, the indigent, the jobless, and such were the initial implications with these two until the sign was read and their gear was assessed.
At that point, the implications flipped. Nice packs, state-of-the-art outer wear, contextually relevant cues to what these guys were up to. The sign was the clincher for my wife; good. Now we were implying positive attributes instead of the negative ones associated with stereotypes, two ends on that dichotomy of the Implicit Personality theory.
This idea holds that perceptually we imply certain characteristics about people based on the few clues or assessments we’ve been able to derive about them.
Aesthetics prevail here. When we find someone attractive we’ve compromised our ability to be objective in discerning them and, according to the theory, attribute other positive characteristics ranging from innocuous like affable to dangerous like trustworthy. Many a serial killer have exploited their charisma to ensnare their victims.
Enter humor, amiability, intelligence and we’ll add to those as well, implying more positive attributes where we’ve found existing ones.
The other end of the dichotomy is true, too. Had these young men not been burdened with their gear, the few fleeting moments of my initial assessment would have been more negative, not being able to find a purpose to their hitching.
Those overweight are victims of implication, drawn out to a point of cliche in studies of employment interviews and hires. A negative evaluation of body type leads to negative implications of ability, intelligence, even character.
And that’s the danger of implication, of assuming. I posted at tip on our Facebook page and Twitter feed, “Assumption interrupts our ability to discern truth.”
As soon as we allow added implications and assumptions to draw conclusions in our discerning truth, we disable our ability to detect it.
They were graduates taking a break before starting med school. As we made our way up the switchbacks to the Zion tunnel our disclosures seemed to accelerate. All four of us appeared to be in that state of travelers’ euphoria where you make human connections. It was wonderful and we extended the lift to Fredonia, Arizona.