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Cowboy Ethics and Cowboy Values

By Patrick DorinsonPolitical Commentator

When it comes to analyzing America's current economic woes and how we got here, I have heard just about all the whining, navel-gazing, excuses, television talk show psychobabble, hand wringing and pundit puffery I can stomach. This is not just about lost home value or diminished 401(K)s.

In all my born days I have never witnessed a spectacle quite as ridiculous as this. America is on the psychiatrist's couch looking for a cure to a self-inflicted problem.

All the so-called experts who are spouting all this nonsense are looking at Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme or A-rod's "everybody was doing it" steroid defense, or Senator Chris Dodd's laughable claim that he had no idea he was getting special treatment on his multiple mortgages and trying to divine what it all means.

Hell I'll tell you what it all means. It means that all three and many more out there that don't make headlines have no moral compass and that lying, stealing and cheating are OK as long as, one you don't get caught and two, you can go on television and sheepishly apologize.

The real societal disease that has crippled us for decades -- and will continue to as long as we excuse bad behavior and allow half-hearted apologies to explain it away --0 is the utter collapse of values and ethics in America.

And until we address this problem all the bailouts and stimulus packages won't amount to a hill of beans and in a few years we will be right back in the same spot.

The cure for this disease is not more group therapy. It is as simple and as old as America itself and it still lives in the hearts and minds of the most iconic figure in our history-the American cowboy.

For all you tenderfoots and high buttoned shoe Easterners let me try to explain.

Unlike politicians and our current crop of business "leaders", a cowboy still makes a deal with a handshake and his word is his bond. A cowboy does not make rash decisions because the wrong decision can be the difference between life and death for him, his horse and those he works with.

And a cowboy lives by a code-a set of unwritten principles that no one has to teach him because it is instilled in him at birth. Cowboys don't whine and stomp their feet like spoiled children as some people seem to do when the going gets tough.

A few years ago I found a book that changed my life. It reminded me that even if I lost everything I had worked for I would still have my code to lean on and start all over again. I remember learning these principles from my late mother who spent a good portion of her childhood living and working with cowboys on a ranch in Colorado. The words might have been different, but she and my Dad hard wired these life lessons into me and my three brothers and sister.

Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street can Learn from the Code of the Westwas written by James Owen, an investment consultant 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. Like myself, he is not a genuine cowboy but we both have a great deal of respect and admiration for the cowboy and the cowboy way of life.

After talking with real cowboys and researching the cowboy way, he came up with his Code of the West which states some simple principles that all of us should try to live by.

  • Live each day with courage
  • Take pride in your work
  • Always finish what you start
  • Do what has to be done
  • Be tough, but fair
  • When you make a promise, keep it
  • Ride for the brand
  • Talk less and say more
  • Remember that some things aren't for sale
  • Know where to draw the line

Recently he published the second volume called Cowboy Values: Recapturing What America Has Lostwhich talks about the basic values that used to be second nature to most Americans, but somehow got lost in a celebrity obsessed culture that glorifies materialism and instant gratification and where winning at all costs has replaced the credo of the race well run. Here is Jim's list of core values.

  • Courage
  • Optimism
  • Self-Reliance
  • Authenticity
  • Honor
  • Duty
  • Heart

Somewhere along the line we forgot these basic ethics and values and replaced them with a self-centered "grab all you can and forget the consequences" attitude. Many of our political and business leaders need a crash course in the principles and ideals of these two books and none too soon.

We have politicians who cheat on their wives. If a man will break his vows to his wife what do you think he will do to you? We have politicians who walk away from their financial obligations and receive special treatment unavailable to you and me. If they can't handle their own money what do you think they will do with yours? We have politicians who preach ethics and values only to fall from grace themselves for not practicing them. We have business leaders who have been convicted of using the stockholder's money as a personal piggy bank then say with a straight face they were business expenses.

And we ourselves are just as guilty when we buy things we can't afford and then when we can't pay look for help from those who didn't.

My whole point is that with all the advances we have made of as a society, we seem to have left behind those things that we should treasure most-the basic truths that right is right and wrong is wrong. That there is no free ride and either we pull together or we will pull ourselves apart. That we all need to face up to our problems because if we face up to them and meet them head-on, they won't seem half as bad than if we ignore them.

You'll never see a cowboy on a psychiatrist's couch.

Bloggers Note: For all you Baby Boomers out there who remember Saturday TV shows with Roy Rogers or Saturday matinees at the local theater with Hopalong Cassidy here is a link to the "codes" of our favorite cowboy stars: http://www.elvaquero.com/The_Cowboy_Code.htm

Patrick Dorinson is a radio talk show host and commentator who goes by the name"The Cowboy Libertarian." He can be heard on a radio program with the same name Saturdays, from 5-6 p.m. PT on Clear Channel's KFBK radio in Sacramento, California.