Governor Cox and Governor Lee on Disagreeing Better

In May, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee hosted a convening in Nashville for Utah Governor Cox’s NGA Chair’s Initiative: Disagree Better. The theme of the meeting was building dialogue skills and fostering positive contact, featuring keynote addresses from Moral Courage College founder Irshad Manji and Citizen University Co-Founder Eric Liu, a panel discussion led by Utah First Lady Abby Cox on ways to help students have healthier conversations, and more.

In opening remarks Governor Lee stressed the importance of the Disagree Better initiative, stating that he has “long believed that we should understand how to live, especially in a political world, with different differences of opinion in ways better than we do now.” The Governor noted that in the current toxic environment the need to learn how to disagree better extends outside of the political world and includes creating deeper and richer understanding with our family members and friends. Of course, Governors are nothing if not the biggest boosters for their states and Governor Lee did not disappoint, making a strong pitch for everyone to visit, or even relocate, to Tennessee.

Governor Cox took the stage with kind words for Governor Lee and Tennessee. The Governor addressed one of the main criticisms that has been levied against the Disagree Better Initiative: that it is just “trying to make us to go along to get along.” Governor Cox noted that the Initiative is the exact opposite of that: “We want people to stay true to their principles. We want people to be very serious about what they believe. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that. And when we attack ideas and not people, when we understand that we are living in a pluralistic nation and that disagreement was foundational to the formation of our country and foundational to the institutions that were put in place to help us, to help us govern, especially when we disagree. That was the whole idea. Not that these institutions would make us all agree, but that we would have a forum to disagree and have healthy conflict, which is what we’re working towards.”  The Governor went on to highlight the many groups who are working toward that goal, giving them his thanks.

After a full day of programming Governor Cox sat down with Governor Lee to get his perspective on how to foster healthy disagreement. Governor Lee thanked speakers and attendees for their work because “this is a conversation that needs to be elevated” in order to empower people to push back against toxic divisiveness. The Governor noted that he is not an expert on civility and doesn’t have it all figured out, but that he wants to: “It’s very much a part of what I want to be as a person who can be in a in a position of leadership and in politics and have very clear and firm convictions and beliefs about the things that I do believe in, but at the same time exercise and model this idea of treating people with equal dignity.” Governor Lee then shared several stories from his time as Governor and lessons that he learned from meeting people and the importance of getting to know people, which is, perhaps paradoxically, actually harder in an increasingly interconnected world. The Governor concluded with a story from his own life, when a tragedy worked to bring his family together, when it could have had the opposite effect.  We encourage you to watch the full conversation.

Learn more about the Disagree Better Initiative here.