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Chaplain's Corner: Cowboy ethics: the ability to live a life of integrity

By Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Greg Thogmartin | Deputy Command Chaplain, USARAK | April 15, 2015


The "Chaplain's Corner" offers perspectives to enhance spiritual/religious resiliency in support of Air Force and Army Comprehensive Fitness programs.

Comments regarding specific beliefs, practices, or behaviors are strictly those of the author and do not convey  endorsement by the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, the Army, the Air Force, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or the 673d Air Base Wing.

"The integrity of the upright will guide them." Proverbs 11:3

Every year on the third Saturday in September, the little town of Princeton, Missouri (my hometown), celebrates Calamity Jane Day. Martha Jane Canary known as Calamity Jane, was born west of Princeton on a homestead near what is now the Lake Paho Conservation Area.

Calamity Jane is Mercer County, Missouri's most well-known daughter - better known than any of its sons.

For the folks of the area, Calamity Jane Day is an excuse for wearing western garb, participating in a trail ride, attending a melodrama and a parade, and a chance to welcome home some folks who come back just for this event each year. It is an opportunity to listen to some good music. It is also an excuse, if you will, for everyone to play cowboy.

For others, the significance of being a cowboy or following "the cowboy way" is an entirely different matter. 

Back in January 2010, the governor of Wyoming, Dave Freudenthal, signed into law the state's official code of behavior. The code is adapted from Jim Owen's book, Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.

Wyoming is the first state to define its values and encode them in such a set of 10 guidelines:

- 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 some things aren't for sale
- Know where to draw the line

Wyoming high school students take a four-week course to help them to learn how to apply these guidelines.

The goal of the course is "to help these students build the personal character traits needed to achieve success in life" according to a news article.

Jim Owen published his book in 2004 in response to the ENRON scandal. So, I would suggest that his definition of "success" for those Wyoming students would have more to do with "the ability to live a life of integrity" than the ability to acquire the trinkets that many in our society would associate with success. 

If anything, his application of the Code of the West seeks to enable a life that is not overcome by the continual bombardment of "extenuating circumstances." His simple list would help us avoid being tripped up by those seemingly small decisions that over time erode integrity and destroy our sense of responsibility to and for others.  

Owen would maintain that "everyone needs a code ... a creed to live by." I would suggest that he is right on.

One key then is to choose your code well.  Another key is having decided upon the code, live by your principles.

A code that is only meant to be read or look good hanging in a frame on a wall is of no ultimate value.

But, a code that guides your life and shapes your effect on others, and empowers you to make wise decisions, now that is a good code.

Maybe Jim Owen's code could be a good starting place for you or a good discussion starter for you and your family or friends to consider how you will define success and a life of integrity.

May God bless you with wisdom to choose well and strength to walk a good path.