by Jim Owen, Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer, Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership

For anyone who wants to be someone of character and live an ethical life, knowing what you stand for is essential.  But cowboys remind us that having a code to live by isn’t enough.  What matters is living your code, and how it shapes the decisions and choices you make each day.  As cowboys say, it’s about actions…not words.

So I was very much struck by a recent op-ed piece in the Casper Star Tribune, forwarded by Mark Zaback, CEO of Jonah Bank, one of the first companies to embrace the Code of the West as the foundation of its business practices.  Called “Living up to our Cowboy Code of Ethics,” it was written by Kim Summerall-Wright, Executive Director of the Casper Housing Authority.  With sobering statistics, it makes a strong case that homelessness is a worsening crisis in our communities.

Beyond that, the op-ed reminds us that the principles of the Code of the West—adopted by the State of Wyoming as its official state code—call upon on us to help work toward solutions for people in need of shelter.  If we truly believe it’s our obligation to “Do what has to be done,” we can’t dismiss rising rates of homelessness as someone else’s problem.

Of course, in these challenging times, our communities face a host of unmet needs, and we can’t each be directly involved on every front.  But the point of the op-ed still holds. As we think about principles like “do what has to be done,” “live each day with courage,” and “know where to draw the line,” we need to look beyond the orbits of our own daily lives.   In the days of open range, a cowboy was someone you could count on to lend a helping hand when needed, and that hasn’t changed.  The Cowboy Code has always been about how we live, not just as individuals, but also as part of our community.