In the 247 years that America has been a country, political tension has always existed between the two predominant political parties. Currently — with the country the most ethnically diverse in history — some argue that it is also the most divided since the Civil War.

But the workplace shouldn’t be a place for people to battle despite differences, according to Gov. Spencer Cox, R-Utah, and Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

“We can’t solve any of the biggest problems in our country today if we all hate each other, right?” said Cox on Thursday in front of an audience of more than a thousand people at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy at the Culture Builders Summit.

Cox and Taylor discussed how Americans can disagree better through the power of civilized dialogue.

Cox said he remembers when people identified themselves as Americans, Utahns and even Jazz fans before they specified whether they were Republican or Democrat. “Now it’s the primary thing that we define ourselves by in the workplace. If, you know, the first question we ask is, ‘Is he Republican or Democrat?’ And then we decide whether we like that person based on that, (it’s) incredibly unhealthy,” Cox said.

That’s not only in the workplace but also an issue on college campuses. Taylor shared a survey from last year by NBC News/Generation Lab that found nearly half of sophomores in college refuse to live with a person who has opposing political views.

The poll reported “a combined 54% of respondents say they would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ room with someone who supported the presidential candidate they opposed in 2020, while 46% said they would ‘probably not’ or ‘definitely not,’” per NBC News.

“How tragic is that,” Taylor said. “What about all of this commitment to diversity?”

Taylor emphasized how shocking it is that polling reports show younger generations, like Generation Z, to be more divided than the older generations — although some evidence shows this, like many arguments, depends on who you ask.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks about his "Disagree Better" initiative at Culture Builders Summit at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy on Thursday, March 28, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

“For every survey question where you can find a unique gender gap among the youngest age cohort, you can find many other questions where you don’t find that gap,” John Sides, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, told The Atlantic. “Where we started with this whole conversation was that there’s this big thing happening; it’s happening worldwide. Then you just pick at it for a few minutes, and it becomes this really complex story.”

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Many in Generation Z are currently getting their college educations and entering the workforce for the first time. Utah Valley University student Malcolm Hatfield told Deseret News it makes sense that people in his generation tend to associate more with people who align politically with them. Still, he doesn’t believe the situation is as divisive as the media makes it out to be.

“I think people still surprise you,” Hatfield said. “If all of your friends agree with you politically, then they’re not really your friends. They’re just your allies.”

“But if you have friends from across the aisle, or you just have friends, regardless of what you think politically, then I think there’s like actual, real companionship,” he said. Hatfield said he believes that once you get to know someone, caring about something like how they vote doesn’t matter.

Cox shared similar sentiments with his “Disagree Better” initiative, arguing that not engaging with those who think differently than us doesn’t help anybody.

“I can tell you story after story about people who decided to step into a very uncomfortable place, who have found common ground and common respect for each other. And that’s what we need more of in our country today. It really is incredible when you when you see it happen,” Cox said.

“We’re desperate for connection. And we’re finding it in political ways. And I just have to tell you don’t do it. Don’t fall into that trap. It’s a false choice,” Cox added. “You should work for somebody who has a different view with you. You should have dinner with someone who you disagree with. You should play basketball or pickleball or something. Find people who are different than you and hang out together and you will realize that the other side isn’t as bad or as scary as you thought.”

An audience listens while Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of SHRM, talk about Cox’s "Disagree Better" initiative at Culture Builders Summit at Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy on Thursday, March 28, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News