When you meet someone for the first time, what do you think of him or her? Do you immediately stereotype and judge what they might be like?

We're all guilty. We're not going to instantly open and up and trust new people with what we say, lest we let secrets leak and wreak havoc on our lives and others. We want to get to know them over time first and see if they are trustworthy. For those who have found themselves betrayed by close friends, such steps of trust are important. It's hard to trust people again when that has occurred.

The problem does not lie in this plan, however; it lies in how someone unfairly judges a person, making it difficult or impossible for any friendship or interaction to occur.

It's often said that we shouldn't "judge a book by its cover;" nevertheless, we do it much more than we think. It's a defensive mechanism, partnered with our ability to notice patterns and trends.

Thanks to how particular people in groups are portrayed, we have a tendency to "wrap" people in those images and actions. If we saw someone wearing rugged, ripped clothes with his or her face covered by a tattered hoodie, we would stereotype that person as possibly being a drug dealer or, at the very least, someone very suspicious and dangerous.

If we saw an obese person, people would stereotype that person as having a lack of self-control with food and, as a corollary, someone who may not understand the consequences of his or her actions. We would throw verbal rocks at such a person and ridicule them constantly.

In both cases, however, we fail to take the human nature into account. We don't consider what may have happened to them and what they may have been through. We wrap people in such lies of image that we are unable to realize that we could be wrong – inadvertently, we lie to ourselves, too.

That person with the worn-out clothes? It could be a person who tried to escape from a life of drugs and has been trying to find a new path in life – and a friend.

What about that absurdly obese person? That person is suffering from a myriad of health problems and has been doing his or her best to fight the weight – and the hate.

Each person is like a prism. However, no one is perfect, and, as such, no one is the perfect example of what a prism is.

There are chips, scratches and cracks strewn throughout each person, some more than others. Some people are also shaped differently, having unconventional structures. Consequently, this makes each person unique in his or her own right. Each person will refract light in different ways, and others will see different versions of the refracted light.

We each see a person differently, depending on our own structure and past experiences. The refracted light that I see from one person will differ from the light that someone else sees.

There are things that we don't see in others, either because we are blind to it, or because we choose not to. We refuse to be open-minded and concede that we may be wrong when we think of or look at someone. That eccentric nerd you see in class may have problems interacting with people, but underneath it all, he's a really cool guy. That silent girl that seems to have an ominous air around here may have persevered through terrible events to get to where she is today, and -- whether you accept it or not -- she may be trying to change her life for the better.

It all depends on how you view things, just like how where you stand in relation to how someone refracts the light. However, we must be open-minded and give others a chance.

What you see is not the only viewpoint; there are many other ways to view a person, instead of looking at only one position and instantly stereotyping the person as that.

Keep that in mind, because each of us will experience that many times in our lives.

Jan Urbano is a senior in biological sciences. He can be reached at jurbano@utk.edu.