I use the term, "code of the west," a lot to signify all those things that are so great about our industry but are kind of unspoken intangibles. Of course, there never was a formal code truly defined, and I've read that Zane Gray first actually used the term, which has nothing to do with geography but rather a mindset.
Several people have written me to provide my definition of the code. Here's a partial list:
- Don't ask about a person's past. In the West it was even frowned upon to ask a man his name. This guideline had a practical side in those days, as many people who moved West had a past they maybe didn't want to divulge. But it goes deeper than that -- namely, everyone should be judged based on the person they are today, not what they were.
- Never steal another man's horse, never ride another man's horse without permission, and never wear another man's hat. Some things are intrinsically personal and are part of a man's very essence; those things should always be treated with deference and respect. The art of practicing this tenet today may not involve the hat or the horse, but more that everyone should strive to understand what's important to the other person and show proper respect.
- Defend yourself when necessary. This has nothing to do with reckless bravado, just the exact opposite. A fight was always to be avoided because the consequences could be dire. Rather it's a recognition that some things are worth standing up for. A principled life is the only life worth living. It was recognition that, in the end, you must control your own destiny, and that's a task you can't delegate.
- Take care of your own. There's big responsibility that goes with family, friends, and taking care of God's creatures. One does what's necessary to live up to that responsibility.
- When you pass someone on the trail, don't look back at him. The practical side was that looking back implied you didn't trust him, and that was an insult. The deeper meaning is that a man should keep his eyes on where he's going. The unhappiest people in the world are those who spend their time looking back and counting the injustices they perceive were inflicted upon them.
- Always fill your whiskey glass to the brim. One should live life to its fullest.
- Be thankful and gracious. A man chooses to smile or frown, and his choice says a lot about the kind of man he is. A surly disposition is a sign of a quitter. Cowboys hate quitters.
- Be courageous. Every cowboy with a hint of common sense is scared that first time he throws a leg over a bronc. Courage is facing those fears and going on.
- Lend a helping hand. If someone's in need, you help them, be they a friend, stranger or enemy. The risk of helping is nothing compared to knowing you turned your back on someone when you were in a position to help.
- Everyone is welcome at the campfire. Being hospitable to strangers has nothing to do with the stranger but it speaks volumes about the person.
- Never shoot a man in the back. Even if the opponent can rightly be considered an enemy, you give them a fighting chance.
- Be modest. Actions speak louder than words. In fact, if the actions are pure enough, words aren't even needed. A cowboy didn't talk much, or at the least he rarely wasted his words. Living is always more important than talking about it.
- Take care of your horse. After the hardest and longest day, a true cowboy ensures his horse is fed, bedded and taken care of before the cowboy thinks about his meal or a warm bed. It's a reflection of one's priorities, and it makes you feel better.
- Never cuss in front of a lady.
- Be there for your friends. To have a friend you must first be a friend.
- Don't complain about the cooking unless you are prepared to be the cook.
If you can't support those you saddle up with, you shouldn't saddle up.
- Ride for the brand.
- Respect others. Stirring up dust around the campfire is either youthful indiscretion or pure ignorance.
- Respect the land.
Honesty must be an absolute in a world where a handshake is more binding than a contract.
- Your word is your sacred bond.
- If it isn't yours, don't take it.
If it's not right, don't do it.
- Take pride in your work and who you are.
- Do what has to be done.
- Be tough but fair.
- Remember that some things aren't for sale.
- Know where to draw the line.
- Live by the Golden Rule.