Why the Cowboy Code Is Not Frivolous

Thursday, February 10, 2011
by Patrick Dorinson



A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.

John Wayne

The other day the Montana State Senate passed SB 216 sponsored by rancher and Senate President Jim Peterson. The bill is simple and direct and it doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime.

SB 216 would adopt The Code of the West from the book Cowboy Ethics and make it the official Montana Code.

Cowboy Ethics was written by James Owen, an investment professional who after ENRON and the other Wall Street scandals of a few years ago, decided it was time to take a good look at what we had become as a society and individuals. Like me he has a great deal of respect and admiration for the iconic American cowboy and the cowboy way of life.

He came up with his Code of the West which states some simple common sense principles that not just cowboys but all of us should try to live by.

The code includes admonitions such as "Live each day with courage," "Be tough, but fair," "Ride for the brand," and "Know where to draw the line."

Governor Schweitzer has said he will veto any frivolous legislation. I guess he consider ethics frivolous. He wants the legislature to focus on important things like jobs and a budget shortfall. He’s right that those things are extremely important.

But the ethics and values deficit in this country is just as important as the fiscal and financial deficits.

If life is just about dollars and cents then we are in bigger trouble than I thought.

 Somewhere along the line we forgot these basic values and replaced them with a self-centered "grab all you can and forget the consequences" attitude and situational ethics.

Children cheat on tests and think it is not only okay but is a path to success.

In 2002 a study by Rutgers University found that cheating was rampant and in many cases accepted behavior among students.

The director of the study said "I think kids today are looking to adults and society for a moral compass and when they see the behavior occurring there, they don't understand why they should be held to a higher standard."

If that is how our young people see the world Lord help us.

One student said,”I actually think cheating is good. A person who has an entirely honest life can't succeed these days."

Another student in the survey said, "What's important is getting ahead. The better grades you have, the better school you get into, the better you're going to do in life. And if you learn to cut corners to do that, you're going to be saving yourself time and energy. In the real world, that's what's going to be going on. The better you do, that's what shows. It's not how moral you were in getting there."

She was 17 at the time and by my ciphering she would be around 26 now. With an attitude like that she should run for Congress.

And I can’t imagine things have improved since 2002 and my guess they have gotten worse.

Politicians cheat on their wives. If a man will cheat on his wife what do you think he will do to the folks that elected him.

Bad behavior in public life will more likely land you a book deal, a reality TV show or a spot on Oprah than the consternation of society. You want proof?

Disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer romped with hookers and he now has a television show on CNN.

By the way hookers are now escorts and they have become a part of mainstream popular culture thanks to Spitzer and Charlie Sheen.

And while the collapse of the housing market has many causes one big one was that some unscrupulous lenders approved loans they knew the borrowers could not afford. By the way the borrowers knew they couldn’t as well and now some just walk away from their obligation. 

Now that’s a great example for the kids, isn’t it?

Some folks might say I’m “naïve” or “old fashioned” or that “times have changed and I need to get with it” whatever “it” is. 

Maybe so.

But when a nation forgets the values that made the country strong and discards its ethical compass as “outdated” that nation could be at its end.

And if not the end you sure as Hell can see it from here.