Seeking unity in a divided country

Marla Estes. Julie Raefield photo
August 26, 2022

Ashland consultant to offer free workshop series

By Julie Raefield for

Humility. A word, and value, that may seem out-of-step with today’s trends towards appearance, rigid opinions, and self-focus. Yet, longtime Ashland resident and consultant Marla Estes is working on elevating the pursuit and teaching of compassionate humility to its highest level.

Through several workshops beginning this fall, Southern Oregon residents may explore ways in which to learn practical steps to increase personal and cultural humility, that can then aid interpersonal, professional and political relationships. Conveniently, one of Estes’ upcoming six-hour workshop series will be offered free of charge to a limited number of attendees, thanks to a peace-building grant from the city of Beaverton.

According to Estes, the motivation to teach this essential human practice “began the day after the 2016 presidential election,” as she realized the country was headed for an increasingly contentious future. Rather than fret over worrisome political positions, Estes says she saw a need to address the elements of our human nature that create increasingly rigid divisions.

“I could see that people began to be afraid of one another, to hate one another. The media contributed by ratcheting up the focus on the extremes of each side of the political divide,” said Estes, who now works to build unity and to create opportunities for a middle path that identifies shared values, needed differing perspectives and shared humanity across the perceived divide.

“Our brains react to opposing ideas as physical threats — so this work, to find and build unity, is going against our biology and psychology,” said Estes. “It is hard work and it requires us to be willing to overcome our reactive instincts. We have to learn to engage a manual override.”

Cultural humility, in Estes view, is the ability to open our mind, listen without immediate judgement, quiet our opinions and seek the humanity within those we might see as the opposition. It also requires self-examination and a willingness to face that which touches into our own shame, discomfort, fears or past humiliations.

Estes next upcoming course, offered free online as a series from 2 to 4 p.m. on three Saturdays, Oct. 1, 15 and 29, will teach participants to improve critical thinking, value viewpoint diversity, gain comfort with the state of “not knowing” and identify the personal roadblocks that interfere with gaining a non-reactive foundation.

As a consultant, trainer, teacher and mentor, Estes has shared her peace-building skills in Ashland over the last 10 years. Using her master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology, Estes has been active at Southern Oregon University as an adjunct faculty, extension course instructor and OLLI workshop leader. Practicing what she preaches, Estes routinely invites the expertise and perspectives of political position-holders on both the right and left when developing her workshops.

In addition to the October grant-funded, six-hour workshop, Estes will be offering two other upcoming cultural humility training opportunities. A free, one-hour introductory course will be offered from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, at the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library in Ashland. And, for those unable to attend the first full October series, a duplicate six-hour series will be offered Nov. 5, 12 and 19, with a sliding fee scale of $30 to $90 for the entire series.

“Recent studies have consistently shown that 85 percent of the country holds beliefs closer to the middle of the political and social spectrum. Only about 15% hold extreme views. However, individuals often believe that those on the other side of the political divide hold those extreme views,” said Estes. “That perception gap lends to fear.”

In her work, Estes sees hope and strength in that middle majority, where training for healthier humility and openness will help build bridges to unite a divided nation.

To learn more about Estes work, please visit To seek information about registering for either of the 6-hour series, email

Rogue Valley resident and freelance writer Julie Raefield has extensive experience as a journalist and communications professional. Email her at

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Bert Etling

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