Cowboy Ethics – A Review Series of the Code of the West

Some years ago, I stumbled across the book, Cowboy Ethics – What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.  It’s an incredible book about the men and women of the west that stand out as “symbols of American culture and values”, and when I unpacked my books after our recent move, I was refreshed to stop and re-read a book that speaks so deeply to me.

There is an intersection between the hard work and tenacity of those that work on the open range, and those that work within other sectors of the economy, and it is worth taking a look at the values, traditions, and honor that resides within us all.  To that end, I am reviewing this book in installments over the coming weeks.

By way of background, I’ll start with the basics.  Cowboy Ethics was written by James P. Owen, an investment manager exposed to the dark side of the industry who decided to take a page from the old west, and write a book based upon a legendary code used as a guide on the open range.  Within this code lies what Owen believes are the principles that allow everyone to make a positive difference. His journey was personal, and focused on defining the characteristics and values so critical to life out west.  It was his mission to define this code, and bring it forward as a way of redemption and reckoning.

The Code of the West is based not on myth, but on the reality of life on the open range.

Owen’s research led him to what he ultimately distilled down to ten principles.  Ten timeless truths that have withstood the test of time, and the vast, rugged land from which they came. So, without further ado, let’s dig in!

Principle #1: Live Each Day with Courage

A cowboy’s life was not luxurious, to say the least.  Life on the open range was perilous at best, and courage was required for survival.  The job of a cowboy placed them in the path of danger every day.  Fear was a constant, but so was the courage to push forward, and get the job done.

Most of us today don’t face anything even close to the day to day dangers faced by our forefathers.  We live in relative comfort.  We seek to protect ourselves and our families from the dangers of the world, but is there a cost?  Are we forgoing developing courage? Have we become too soft?  I know for myself, being brave has become ‘a thing’, something I choose to do in particular cases.  I would not describe myself as courageous.  I do courageous acts on occasion, but in general, I seek safety and comfort.

Courage can look a million different ways.  It can mean making that phone call to apologize, it can mean reporting someone for illegal behavior, and it can mean saying I love you first.

What does courage look like to you?  Is there more you could do to live a courageous life?  If you are living a courageous life, what makes it courageous – I’d love to learn from you.

Real courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.






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