COMMENTARY: The Cowboy Code 748.1

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 the moral code of these heroes that left no doubt that 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 learn, the more I’ve come to think that there’s as much danger in complexifying 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 guidelines of virtue. Such guidelines are provided in the quaintly old-fashioned Cowboy Code promoted by the late Gene Autry:

  1. The cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The cowboy is a patriot.

With a little updating this code still works.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that Character Counts!


Comments 2

  1. This is the very thing I find so refreshing at the cowboy poetry gatherings. You are surrounded by people who still live by these ethics and codes of conduct. Too bad they don’t translate to the whole world. It would be a much better and more honorable place.

  2. Being a Cowboy at heart, I subscribe to a similar code of the West as prescribed by the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership:
    Live each day with courage
    Take pride in your work-remember some things aren’t for sale
    Always finish what you start
    Do what has to be done-Know where to draw the line
    Be tough but fair
    When you make a promise Keep it–Talk less say more
    Ride for the brand

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