There’s always more than one meaning for a word, depending on which reference you consult.

And of course, there’s your own personal interpretation, what you have decided the word really means. (I’m sure you’ve noticed this in your job in long, boring meetings, when your boss repeatedly misuses a word and you and your co-workers amuse yourselves by exchanging eye-rolls.)

My favorite definition of the word “opinion” is provided by Merriam-Webster, a subsidiary of Encyclopedia Britannica: "a belief that is stronger than an impression, but less strong than positive knowledge."

I like this particular definition because it’s so easy to find real-life examples. Today’s television news provided a classic.

In some bank in some city in the United States, a young man walked up to a teller’s window to cash his paycheck. Teller's immediate impression: probably between 20 and 30, dressed casually, neatly trimmed facial hair, black skin. (Remember the definition—impression is the first step, and is usually immediate, based on sight, sound, touch, even smell.)

Next is the tricky part—forming the opinion.

In all our brains we have jillions of bits of data made up from things we’ve seen on TV, stories in the newspaper, and stuff on social media, rumors, gossip, urban legends, and of course, facts.

In our example, the bank teller’s computer/brain was in too much of a hurry to take the time to mentally sift the data to eliminate proven untruths, biases, and prejudices. She came up with the opinion that the payroll check presented by the young man could not possibly be legitimate because her impression of him did not match what she thought an employee of this reputable business would look like. She could have simply phoned the business to verify the check, but instead called the police and reported that the person at her teller window was attempting to cash a fraudulent check.

You already know how this plays out.

The bank teller’s journey from impression to opinion was far too hasty, and she never reached her destination of positive knowledge. The customer was publicly humiliated, the police wasted their time on an unfounded call, the bank had to apologize and is open to a lawsuit—numerous people affected adversely by the teller’s leap from impression to opinion.

It happens every day. We all do it. We’re busy, rushing from place to place, working, raising kids, and paying bills, so it’s quick and easy to put a label on people and file them in a general category and move on to the next assignment.

Do you ever wonder what label people are sticking on you?

Emily Price is a community activist and advocate who has completed degrees in Sociology and Psychology, 2 professional business careers, and at least 50 weird part-time jobs while raising 3 kids as a single mom. She currently lives in Pueblo West, by way of South Dakota, Illinois, Missouri, and Texas.