Hate: It’s a dirty, disgusting word.

True hate has always been ugly. But now it’s becoming both confusing and ugly.

Much like the word “love,” the word “hate” has been used in many different ways, with meanings ranging from a mild dislike to extreme aversion and hostility.

However, the newest and scariest use of the word is to put people we don’t agree with into a de-humanized group, in much the same way as ethnic slurs have been used.

By accusing someone of “hate” and calling them a “hater,” we can put them in a neat little box and not have to try to understand them anymore. Done — end of discussion — I’m right, you’re wrong.

As is so often the case, those who use this label are often the most guilty of it themselves. In the process of making these often false accusations, they are only inciting even more distrust, division and dislike.

For example, someone may be accused of hating immigrants, when in reality they just disagree with the government’s policy toward immigration. There’s a world of difference between disagreeing with a policy and hating a person or group. This same person may even distrust immigrants and be uncomfortable around them, but that certainly doesn’t mean he or she hates them. So rather than discussing why they are uncomfortable and distrustful, or debating the merits of a governmental policy, it’s easier to just dismiss them as a hater.

To be fair, this tendency to label others is not so different from what we all do every day. We label people as Democrats or Republicans, old fogies or young punks, city slickers and country hicks, rich and poor. By doing that we can avoid having to think about whether our prejudices are justified.

But the “hater” label is different because it is so strong, much like a racial slur, only socially acceptable. It’s kind of like calling someone a racist or a bigot in that it invokes an emotional response. The problem is, using words to incite emotions, rather than for accuracy, almost always causes even more problems.

Compounding this whole word problem is the fact that hate is not always wrong. Wouldn’t it be considered a virtue if you hate crime, drugs, child abuse and corruption?

But when we aim it at one person, that’s when things get sticky. Is it OK to hate Hitler? A pedophile? A mass murderer? Is it possible to hate someone (in other words have an intense dislike for them as a person) and yet not want them to be harmed in any way?

Certainly there are some real haters out there. But we don’t need to label them because they are obvious. Their hatred and hostility is self evident and doesn't require someone to point it out. So we should be very suspicious when someone tries to point out another person’s hatred. Ask yourself: Why is this person so eager to label and so unwilling to engage in meaningful debate?

Maybe it’s because it’s so easy. Rather than actually thinking or putting some effort into understanding others, we can simply accept the superiority of our own bigoted views and put anyone who disagrees with us into a group that’s easy to hate.

It's Our Turn is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.