ATOMIC DOGThe 7 Cowboy Values
A lot of you don't know this, but this website thing? It's not my real job.
Shucks no, my real job is helluva' lot more harrowin', excitin', and downright romantic than writin' down words and such.
Truth is, I'm a cowboy of sorts, only instead of roundin' up cattle I round up shopping carts.
Rollin', rollin', rollin'
Though the streams are swollen
Keep them doggies rollin'
That's right, I'm a cart wrangler at Costco. When you're done loading your 50-packs of tighty-whitey Hanes underwear, 10-pound cans of olives, and 2-gallon tubs of hemorrhoid cream into your Ford Explorer, I retrieve the cart, or as we boys in the business like to refer to them, the iron horses. We don't try to understand 'em, we just push and shove and roll 'em.
Yep, we're your huckleberries. We're the last American cowboys.
And when nighttime comes, we make ragin' campfires out of discarded Sanyo plasma TV boxes. We cook up some of those big Costco cans of Van Camp Pork 'n Beans and we stare up at the light from the faraway Toyota dealership. We listen to the mournful yelps of the feral poodles, that're no doubt lamentin' their tattered ribbons and their overgrown pom-poms and the regrettable fact that they have to steal water and kibble out of the bowls of indoor dogs that are labeled "Duke" or "Spot" instead of "Fi-Fi."
And we sing songs, too — all the cowboy favorites like Home on the Range, The Yellow Rose of Texas, and Don't Phunk With my Heart.
It's a tough life, a lonely life, but a man like me wouldn't have it any other way.
Why am I tellin' y'all this after so many years? Well, it's kinda germane to my story, you see.
Last week, after a particularly rough day when we herded in over 6,000 carts, I was rummagin' through the remaindered Costco books, lookin' for something that would nourish a cowboy soul, when butter my butt and call me a biscuit, I stumbled on a book full of purty pictures called Cowboy Values written by some ol' sod horse by the name of James P. Owens.
Cowboy Up or Go Sit in the Truck
Owens was a stockbroker for 35 years, but as the years piled on and his portfolios grew and shrank, he became disenchanted with his profession and disenchanted with America. He saw that where America once evaluated a man's character by his actions and accomplishments, it now evaluated a man by what kind of car he drives and the size of his portfolio.
Owens then realized that his lifetime fascination with the Old West might provide some guidance. He started thinking about all the Westerns he'd enjoyed throughout the years and all the books he'd read on the era and inspiration struck him in the face like a bag of oats thrown off a wagon.
Cowboys weren't just matinee idols; whether in the movies or real life, they stood for something. They had character and they had a clear, unshakeable —albeit unwritten — set of beliefs they lived by each day.
So after a year of studying the subject, he wrote a book called Cowboy Ethics that he hoped would serve as an inspiration to Wall Street.
You don't need me to tell you that Wall Street hasn't paid much heed, but Owens hasn't given up. He's since written a follow-up book that I mentioned earlier, Cowboy Values, and while he still manages a hedge fund, he travels around the country preaching the ways of the cowboy to any group or company that'll listen.
The book, as well as its predecessor, is simple and straightforward, but complexity isn't the cowboy way. After digesting innumerable movies, textbooks, and first-person accounts, Owens distilled the cowboy way into 7 core values that not only define the cowboy, but America, too.
Of course he's willing to die. You think we do this kind of work because we're scared to die?
— Virgil Cole, Appaloosa
Talk to any psychologist worth his id-odized salt and he'll tell you that most people are driven by fear. Hell, Americans seem to be afraid of lots of things, mostly the wrong things. They're afraid of two-bit terrorists, terrorists who've lately taken to hiding explosive devices hidden up their ass.
That's right, hidden up their ass. You know, if you're a terrorist who's gone to the excruciating trouble of shoving an IED up your ass, feel free to blow me up; I'll just spend eternity pointing a finger at you and laughing at how I imagine your face looked while you corkscrewed a pound of plastic explosive, some copper wire, and the guts of a cell phone up your ass.
Americans, along the same lines, are afraid of two-bit ideologues half-way across the world who might, without interference, eventually acquire the technology to hit the Virgin Islands with a nuclear missile that wobbles like one of Tim Tebow's passes after he got his melon knocked. Ho-hum. Trust me, if anyone ever gets close to that, we'll light them up like the bonfire after the last Sadie Hawkins dance.
Don't get me wrong, it's potentially a serious problem, but there are thousands of nuclear bombs on the planet and few people seem to worry about them. Worrying about Iran or Korea getting a couple without the means to deploy them efficiently or accurately seems a little disproportionate.
The Justice Department just came out with a report the other day that says half of American's children were assaulted in some way last year. Half! That seems to be worth worrying about a little more than a couple of pathetic ideologues.
And we seem to always be afraid of losing things, of people or the Government taking things away from us. We're like little kids worried that some bully is going to take away our tutti-frutti ice cream cone.
If and when it happens is one thing, but paranoia about things that probably won't happen seems to be sapping our collective spirit.
None of this was necessarily the kind of fear Owens was writing about, but nevertheless, he believes, rightly so, that fear is constrictive.
He believes we ought to acknowledge fear and then confront it, that we should accept risk, change, and failure as a way of life, the way the cowboys did. If you accept that some bad shit, along with the good shit, is going to happen, you castrate fear and put a brand on its quivering ass.
Along the same lines, we need to endure hardship and adversity without complaint. That doesn't mean we shouldn't stand up for what we believe in and make tough choices. Quite the contrary. But the cowboy doesn't spend precious time worrying about intangibles, things that he can't see. He's worried about the herd he's responsible for. He worries about his land, his family, and his neighbors.
That's the cowboy way.
Vin: Reminds me of that fellow back home that fell off a ten-story building.
Chris: What about him?
Vin: Well, as he was falling people on each floor kept hearing him say, "So far, so good...so far, so good!
— The Magnificent Seven
America, lately, seems to be programmed to avoid negatives instead of embracing positives. Look at the scoundrels on cable news (on both sides of the political aisle) decrying the impending falling sky. As a writer, I know instinctually that adversity and conflict and blood make for a good story, but I'm talking about novels; you know, fiction.
Broadcasting the news shouldn't be based on the same formula as a best-selling novel. Of course, it shouldn't be based on optimism, either. Rather, it should be based on truth, which is always a blend of the good and the bad.
As individuals, Owens believes that the cowboys had a faith in the rightness of the natural order of things, and they chose to focus on the good in their lives and had a deep gratitude for any good fortune that came their way.
What's the purpose of this wished-for optimism? It's simple, really. Owens says that you need hope and confidence for anything good to occur. In cowboy terms, you won't drive any fence posts if you automatically assume the wood's infested with termites.
3. Self Reliance
No brag... just fact.
— Will Sonnett, The Guns of Will Sonnett
Owens writes about watching video of the aftermath of Katrina and seeing thousands of people standing around doing nothing to help themselves. He was freaked out that so very few seemed to take responsibility for their own well-being and instead chose to wait around for FEMA.
Regardless of how fair or unfair a point that is, it's worth thinking about.
It may be true, and if it is, it's more a reflection of what's happened to us as a society. How many Americans are trained to live without technology, or perhaps more importantly, have the skill or knowledge to find food, shelter, or improvise life-saving strategies in the event of a disaster?
What would you do if the power went out, went out for good? Would you know what to do, how to feed yourself, how to keep yourself warm?
Hell, we've outsourced just about everything. From what I've heard, it's hard to find even a piece of furniture that was entirely built in the U.S. On a more domestic level, how many can even cook a meal or fix a leaky water faucet?
That wouldn't have sat well with the cowboys. They valued competence over convenience and put in the time and effort required to learn a skill. In fact, they found satisfaction in every accomplishment. More importantly, they took responsibility for their own well-being.
If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.
— Cowboy saying
How many people do you know that aren't full of cow pie? Very few, I'll wager.
How many people really say what they mean? Say things without hypocrisy, pretense, or a self-serving agenda? How many people say things out of conviction rather than a fear of being rejected by the herd?
The cowboys took satisfaction in who they were, and their actions were guided by their coherent set of core beliefs. They recognized their strengths as well as their weaknesses.
Their identity came from personal values expressed not only in words, but deeds too, and not from what kind of car they drive, where they vacation, or their position in their company.
They believed that a rich man isn't the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least.
It's sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life... or death. It shall be life.
— Ten Bears, The Outlaw Josey Wales
Cheating, unfortunately, has become an American way of life. The end almost always justifies the means, and too often the end is a bigger bank account.
We expect to be cheated. We expect to be lied to, and this perverse core belief leads to a kind of rudeness and acrimony that poisons the soul of America.
It's horribly sad, but we've all collectively brought it on ourselves, whether we're the soulless cheaters or the distrustful cheatees.
Not so with the cowboys. Owens writes that being worthy of trust means everything to a cowboy. If one of his cows strayed into another's herd, he fully expected to be compensated in full when the cow's new owner eventually sold him. It was part of the social structure of the West; without it, the entire system would have collapsed.
Cowboys told the truth and they acted with integrity, no matter what the cost. Furthermore, they knew that just because something was legal didn't make it right.
From now on I see a red sash, I kill the man wearing it. So run you cur. And tell the other curs the law is coming. You tell 'em I'm coming! And Hell's coming with me, you hear! Hell's coming with me!
— Wyatt Earp, Tombstone
The cowboy felt that he had a responsibility to something bigger than himself. He was willing to sacrifice self-interest to protect his family, community, or country.
This kind of thinking was absolutely necessary, writes Owens, "as brave men were the only bulwark against the dangers and lawlessness of the frontier."
Owens believes that nowadays, the "drive for economic and social success have intensified to the point where there is no stigma in neglecting obligations to others; it's simply assumed that 'someone else' will take care of it."
Not so for the cowboy. They did what had to be done.
Well, he sure as hell wasn't one to complain. Woke with a smile, seemed like he could keep it there all day. Kind of a man that'd say 'good morning' and mean it, whether it was or not. Tell you the truth, Lord, if there was two gentler souls in this world, I never seen 'em. Seems like old Tig wouldn't even kill birds in the end. Well, you got yourself a good man and a good dog, and I'm inclined to agree with Boss here about holding a grudge against you for it. I guess that means Amen.
— Charley Waite, Open Range
We're turning into a nation of cold-hearted bastards. Sure, we'll pony up when we see a heart-rending video of some kid whose Christmas presents were burned up in a fire, but we'll turn a blind eye to the homeless and needy in our own neighborhoods.
Hell, why not? The latter aren't celebrities; no one will know if you help them. No one will know what a warm-hearted bastard you are if your charitable act isn't done publicly.
The cowboy found rewards in giving because he recognized our shared humanity. His charity wasn't determined by the bottom line, wasn't determined by matters of profit or convenience.
...consider the disgraceful aftermath of Hurricane Katrina...or the shameful treatment of our veterans...or our chronic failure to ease the plight of the homeless or the medically uninsured. It's hard not to believe that heart is a shrinking element of our national character.
Owens doesn't think America is resented just because it's the richest and most powerful country in the world, but because our national priorities are "out of whack." We act out of self-interest, misdirected ideology, and political party loyalty, not heart.
Not so the cowboy. He lived by humanitarian ideals; he lived with heart, which Owens characterized in the following ways:
• Seeing the good in people
• Seeing the beauty in life
• Finding rewards in giving
• Recognizing our shared humanity
• Feeling at one with nature
• Kindness to all living creatures — including ourselves.
Give Me a Stiff One, Barkeep.
Is all this cowboy stuff corny? Is it just sentimental pabulum, Pollyanna horseshit as anachronistic as the cowboy himself?
Part of me, the jaded part, wants to think so, but the better part of me really does believe in the values espoused, regardless of whether or not they were truly part of the lives of the real cowboys and not just the celluloid ones.
I've often written of rites of passage, advocated that young men, upon achieving adulthood, be given some rules to live by, some code of honor. The damn trouble is that it's hard to advocate the merits of such a code, especially when those who have no code sometimes seem to prosper.
But those of us who do have a code know that it helps us prosper in ways the jaded can't even comprehend. It helps us in forming meaningful and satisfying relationships and meaningful and satisfying friendships. It helps us live fulfilling lives, gives us peace of mind, and gives us, through our efforts, a better community, country, and world in which to live.
And living by such a code doesn't mean that we can't also prosper financially. I don't believe for a second that you have to be ruthless and self-serving to make money. Quite the contrary, I'm quite certain that a personal code like that espoused by Owens, along with a similar business code, will actually further one's chances of being prosperous financially, and of course, spiritually.
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