COMMENTARY: The Cowboy Code

I grew up in much simpler times. Television was in its infancy, and the idea of a hero was exemplified by a white-hatted cowboy. There was a clarity and simplicity to this hero’s moral code that left no doubt there is a right and wrong.

As I became more sophisticated, it was easy to ridicule these simplistic approaches to ethics and living. Yet the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve come to think there’s just as much danger in muddying our choices into endless shades of gray.

Sure, there are extenuating factors and exceptions that challenge the validity of every ethical principle, but on balance we need clear prescriptive benchmarks of virtue. Such guidelines are provided in the quaintly old-fashioned Cowboy Code promoted by the late Gene Autry:

1. Don’t shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
2. Don’t go back on your word or a trust confided in you.
3. Tell the truth.
4. Be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
5. Don’t advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6. Help people in distress.
7. Be a good worker.
8. Keep yourself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
9. Respect women, parents, and the law.
10. Be patriotic.

With a little updating, this code still works.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 9

  1. Another childhood-era cowboy hero was The Lone Ranger. The Masked Man also had a Code that has stood the test of time and politics…

    I believe…..
    That to have a friend, a man must be one.
    That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
    That God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
    In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
    That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
    That ‘this government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ shall live always.
    That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
    That sooner or later…somewhere…somehow…we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
    That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
    I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man.”

    I don’t know who that Masked Man was, but he left this silver bullet and a note that says “Character Counts.”

  2. There is a higher code that is timeless and never needs updating: Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, body and should and love your neighbor as yourself.

    Above this, there is no law.

    1. Brenda,
      YES! A few typos in your response, but you have the gist of it. The code that we should all seek to follow. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your body. And, love your neighbor as yourself. These are the two greatest commandments. All other commandments stem from these.

      1. Since everyone does not believe in our Lord, I think just your 2nd part is most important which translates to the GOLDEN RULE.

        Nowadays, we are living in a world that seems to be a selfish world. The word “Compromise” has been removed from the dictionary. What do we see all over: I-phone, I-pad, MY-Documents, MY-File, … Where is OUR, WE and US used in our vocabulary?

  3. Thank you once again for your article.

    For a minimum of 2014 years we have been taught these lessons.
    Gene Audry and Lone Ranger have bone been gone atleast 50 years.
    Where were all of us when the President of the World most powerful nation was Lying to us and how come non of the guys from pulpit have anything to say about them or their lies?
    I am hoping that all the lawmakers are receiving your preaching on a regular bases.
    thank you.
    I am hoping

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