While traveling in Central America, the subject of banditos reared its head to send shivers down everyone’s spine. This is a subject that is near and dear to those who travel internationally. Whenever we discuss third world countries, we get stuck in stereotypes. Third world countries have banditos. Third world countries devalue their women. Third world countries keep women barefoot and pregnant.

Shirley Ryan - Working TogetherThe interesting part is that some people in our country think we are the enlightened and progressive ones. Some think that women here have equal rights. This isn’t exactly the case; the prejudices here are subtle, but many are still around.

So, what do equal rights and banditos have to do with one another? Stay with me.

The truth is that we have “banditos” in our country too. Cultural permissiveness towards offenders, dependency, and lack of family structure create systems that become dependent and stagnant. When families get stuck, communities get stuck and when communities get stuck, then whole societies get stuck. Growth doesn’t happen, because there is no transition from parental relationships within the family units to adult relationships between males and females. So, how do we get unstuck? Women need to be educated differently.

Women who are mothers need to teach boys how to treat women when they grow up. Women who are mothers need to teach girls how to expect to be treated by men when they grow up. They need to teach girls that it is OK to be direct and assertive when talking to other girls, too. They can show how this is done with their everyday behavior. If women accept less then they deserve, they send a strong message to their children, boys and girls. “We as women don’t deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Our thinking is not valuable. We have nothing to contribute.” Women can challenge and change the system through what they teach their children. The system starts within the family and ripples out to the community.

What does this have to do with banditos? Everything! Some people have always preferred getting things the easy way — like stealing rather than working — but morals, too, come from family leadership. Women need to tell their sons and daughters that something is wrong when it is wrong. Women need to help steer their families toward new ways of being in this world.

Because male and female perspectives are different on many subjects, it is important to have the balance that those differences make. So women have to speak up. While this can create tension, and it should, it also can help us to grow as families and as a community. We can create collaborative family systems that teach both boys and girls to be responsible to the family and community, not just for our daily bread, but for internal family leadership and change. I am referring here to women as collaborative family leaders. I am not referring to women’s roles as bankers, lawyers and corporate leaders.

We are beginning to realize that, as responsible people, we are parents to all of the children of the world. Hillary Clinton made this point clearly: “It Takes a Village”. We need to remember that, regardless of our political or cultural affiliations. It may be one of the traditional values that have been lost in the shuffle of our enlightened culture, especially in urban communities. It is the base value that creates interdependent communities that care for one another and an interdependent world that fosters the betterment of all.

Whether it is in families or countries, cultural change seems like overwhelming work. A cultural facelift entails sifting through history to celebrate past traditions, while always questioning where they came from, and what makes them valuable today. Cultural change and reinvention is geared to ask questions about the practices and principles that we’ve learned and embraced. The job is not just about learning, but also about unlearning things that no longer work for us. Does this mean giving up our traditions? Not at all! Where would we be if we didn’t have some of our wonderful traditions to honor: Christmas, Passover, May Day, Thanksgiving, Cinco de Mayo, Dias de los Muertos, Easter, Memorial Day picnic’s and the like? Traditions make life rich and meaningful, but mindless adherence to things that keep us stuck does not.

Will it happen overnight? No. Unlearning what took years to learn takes time. We will need to find a middle road between black and white that isn’t a muted shade of gray, but a vibrantly thriving color. Shades of gray are relevant in some instances, but not as replacements for values, character, honesty and integrity.

What kind of world do you want to live in? How can we as adults instill personal and family traditions that help us thrive rather than hold us mired in the past? Can we shift our individual thinking and watch it ripple subtly through our systems, like pebbles in a lake. If we can — as women and men, mothers and fathers — we’ll begin the journey to a world of interfamily and inter-community health and peaceful, abundant lives.

[tags]Shirley Ryan, Working Together, Life Coaching, Cental America banditos, women and family, spiritual and cultural change, eNewsChannels[/tags]