Illustration by Kelli McAdams.

Illustration by Kelli McAdams.

The eyes are everywhere. They scan from head to toe. They say, “Who does she think she is, wearing those boots?” They mock every movement, from the nervous way you tug at your hair to the awkward shuffling you call dancing. The eyes leave you rooted to the spot — making you afraid to provide more fodder for their hungry gazes.

OK, so maybe it’s not that nightmarish, but it really sucks to go out on the town and feel judged. Everyone does it. Everyone makes assumptions based on how we dress, how we talk, where we hang out, even what drinks we order at the bar. But problems arise when we let these judgments affect our behavior and when we use judgments to determine worth.

In our early 20s, we make judgments based on what is readily visible. Boys in cut-off shorts sporting mustaches must be hipsters. Girls wearing strings of pearls and carrying Vera Bradley bags must be in sororities. Then we attribute personality traits to match what we see. These guys must like obscure bands and drink their body weight in PBR. Or, these girls must spend their nights painting each other’s nails and watching “Pretty Little Liars.” So do these judgments prevent us from getting to know people?

Back in college, I was the queen of judgment. Living in a dorm near Sorority Row made me feel like a captive in enemy territory. Riding down 13 floors on an elevator filled with like, excited like, chatter and “Love Spell” perfume, I would only stare at the ground. Interesting conversations or meaningful connections with these girls seemed impossible. They didn’t look like me; they didn’t sound like me. Ergo, they probably didn’t want anything to do with me, and vice versa.

I believed this logic for all four years of school. I was guilty of assuming that anyone with an affiliation to a frat or sorority, Midtown or Gator football would not interest me. Because I never talked with anyone of differing viewpoints, my assumptions remained steadfast.

I have also borne the brunt of this nasty habit. Midway through freshman year, I had to switch dorm rooms to find a more peaceful environment. (Let’s just say I was a reluctant spectator to many late-night love affairs.)The staff told me to visit the few rooms with openings to see if I could find a better roommate match. One of the first suites I visited was neat and clean-smelling, with a large Marilyn Monroe portrait on the wall. I liked the environment and hoped its inhabitants would like me as well. I was interviewed not only about my sleeping habits and class schedule, but also my favorite bars, what designers I admired and the make-up brands I liked.

As the interview wore on, I realized I had no answers to their questions. I didn’t wear makeup back then; my daily routine was dragging a brush through my tangled ocean of hair. I didn’t go out to bars; at 18, my idea of fun was riding my bicycle.

My interviewer got up to shake my hand to signal it was over.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You seem really nice, but you’re not really the kind of girl we need around here.”

Hot, angry tears welled up in my eyes, and I shot out of there like a bat out of hell.

Like most life lessons, it was long after graduation before I considered the effects of my judgmental behavior. “Restaurant revelation” should become a household term because, I’m telling you, working at one of these places will turn your worldview on its head.

My restaurant’s staff forms a cross section of Alachua County residents. It is a diverse group of races, income levels and value systems. But when everyone is wearing uniforms, there is little to no visual indication of a person’s background. I got to know people for who they are, sans judgment.

Of course, old habits die hard: I used to give hell to one guy because I heard he was in a frat. I decided he was a tool. Later on, he helped my mother and I move heavy furniture into my new apartment. Oops.

Restaurant Revelation #27: Judgement only separates us. It breeds indifference or, at worst, hostility in situations where we shouldn’t even have an opinion yet. It creates a cycle of fear.

Of course, I’m not suggesting it’s plausible to live without judgment. But I think we can hone our skills. We can learn how to set aside preconceived notions and truly get to know people. Perhaps our initial judgments will prove accurate, but we can relish in the fact that we took the time to investigate.

Here’s how I do it: When I judge someone I have just met, I consciously try to push it to the back of my mind. I take pains to see this person as (s)he would like to be seen. It’s like imagining someone naked. You’re seeing him without his affiliations and accoutrements and focusing on his inner core — his soul, even. That way, the door is wide open to connect with anyone.

If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.