Saturday, October 06, 2007


"The Code of the West was a gentleman's agreement to certain rules of conduct. It was never written into the statutes, but it was respected everywhere on the range."
-Ramon F. Adams

This week while looking at some statements by Senator Obama I brought up the fact that he comes across a bit prissy, that he lacks the tough guy image that you want in a leader. A commenter, Lance, pointed out that none of the candidates (other than Senator Clinton) really seem all that tough which got me thinking. What is a tough guy? What makes people seem less that way today? Why have we moved away from the idea of masculinity and toughness being valuable?

The problem with this concept is that the idea of the tough guy has been so damaged in western culture that like machismo it has become a caricature. Being tough today is thought of in terms of being a brute or a thug, it's a description of what you do to others rather than what you are.

For many, being tough is being prison tough. Never backing down, always looking like you'd kill someone if you weren't being held back. Always needing to be on top, never showing weakness. This is the phony tough guy that gang bangers exemplify, that's on the face of every convict. I'm not a victim, I'm dangerous, don't think you can take advantage of me. This sort of toughness isn't a character of virtue, but a facade put on to show the world how "bad" you are. It's strutting like a rooster, treating everyone as victims to be abused and used for your enjoyment, and being afraid of anyone seeing you be anything else.

The phony tough guy is the guy that wants to fight at the drop of a hat, that can't work out the difference between a meaningless statement and a genuine injurious insult. Someone for whom every time the other guy has to back down. Someone who can't show a moment's weakness, then defines weakness as ever being anything but a cartoon of masculinity. Showing affection at a child's actions? You're being a bitch. Giving in when the issue is meaningless? You're weak. Crying when things are really hard? You are nothing.

This is the opposite problem from the Alda-ized metrosexual male of todays culture, the kind of man who carries a man-purse, gets manicures and facials, is worried about wearing the latest fashions, and cries about everything. The fake tough guy is the guy who rejects that but still doesn't know much about real masculinity, so he becomes a stereotype, a phony tough guy.

There are genuine tough guys out there still, although each generation seems to produce fewer. The real tough guy doesn't feel any need to prove it to anyone - and yet everyone seems to know. The real tough guy doesn't have to posture constantly and seem tough, he is. The real tough guy knows that toughness is how you face life, not how you treat others. He can be compassionate, affectionate, gentle, sympathetic, and kind without being weak, easily manipulated, effeminate, or prissy.

As a pattern for what a tough guy is like facing life, I'd like to use something from the past, when men had to be tough just to survive. A primer on facing life as a man without becoming a thug or an unfeeling stone: The Cowboy Way.

There was no official codified list of ways to behave for cowboys, they picked it up from each other, watching what they saw as noble and proper and rejecting what they saw as improper and unmanly. The code is closely related to the code of chivalry, for good reason: cowboys didn't sprout out of cactus and rocks, they were men from all around the world who came to America to start a new life with only their weaknesses and lack of will to hold them back. A place where a man could make anything of himself if he had the will and the strength to do it. Nobles, scholars, athletes, soldiers, farmer, politicians, all sorts of men came to the west, and their past faded into the vast distances as they became something new.

And they patterned what they thought men ought to be based on what a gentleman was like in more civilized areas. The Cowboy Way took the code of a gentleman and adapted it to the rougher, more dangerous and challenging nature of the old west, which was truly wild at times. From this they maintained a certain decorum and pattern of proper behavior that, while it would not be welcome in any lordly manor, would still be familiar.

Over time, as more women came to the west, as these men forged and built a place to live and bring up families, civilization trickled into the area. Every woman was a little pool of civilization, a small realm where men tried to behave more carefully and respectfully, and as those pools merged and grew, the Cowboy Way faded - although it is still out there, and real cowboys still ride the range in places like Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Wyoming. You can see them with their bashed up hats and cowboy drawl in small towns in these areas, on the range, in ranches. With the price of gas going up, they even ride horses more than they used to.

Yet the code these men lived by is still a wise pattern for today's man to consider. The cowboy was often rough and crude, he slept in the mud and whooped it up in town, spending his money in a weekend of drunken pleasures, then was on the road again for months of hard, hard labor. The thing is, despite the boyish actions of the cowboys, despite civilization's softening effect, the Cowboy Way is still applicable today for men to consider.

The exact code, having never been written down and turned into law, is nebulous, it varies based on who you talk to, what they remember, and how they personally live. There are many shared concepts, though, and here are a few with how they can be applied today by any boy or man.

1. Don't inquire into a man's past.
In the old West, men could be from any background, good or bad, but when they came to the frontier, they were starting over. A man had to make his own way and he may be bad all through, but he may be someone who made mistakes and is trying to get past them. Cowboys didn't inquire too deeply into a man's past, nor his name. If he shared a name, that's what you called him - didn't matter if it was real or not. That's what he was now.

This is a principle that we can use today: someone should be judged by who they are now and what they do, not what they did before. This doesn't erase justice, a man must pay for his wrong, but if he's done his time, he starts over. If a man works hard and does what's right, his deeds of the past don't matter any more. Conversely, just because someone was wonderful once and did great deeds before doesn't mean he is today: prove yourself again, take up your burden every day and show what kind of man you are.

*UPDATE: commenter Viktor Silo points out that a man's past defines who he is now; this is true, but the principle is not that the past doesn't matter, but that what a man does now is what is most critical. For the old west, when some guy rode into camp unknown, you didn't ask about his past, you responded to what they were right now. And that's how we should be today: if you don't know someone's past, then you should treat them based on who they are now, not what you figure or think or hope.

2. Never steal another man's horse. A horse thief pays with his life.
For people who don't understand the old west, the protection of horses and killing of horse thieves seems excessive. What you have to understand is that Montana is 2000 miles from Texas. California is 2000 miles from the Mississippi river. You didn't go a few blocks to the store, you rode a few days to the nearest town. A cowboy afoot was in danger from the weather, from hostile tribes such as the Cheyenne and the Blackfoot. He was slow and used up resources faster, spent more time in the elements than he had to. A horse meant life and death. Stealing a man's horse and putting him afoot was a very serious thing.

Today this can be thought of in a more general sense. Obviously nobody should steal from another person - it's not just illegal, it's essentially immoral. Yet theft goes beyond the mere taking of objects that don't belong to you. A real man understands the labor that goes into a job, and doesn't steal that either: pay your employees what they are worth, give them a fair wage for their job. And an employee knows that his time and effort are paid for, and it would be stealing from the boss to not work. Giving less than you can, taking off extra time just for fun, slacking off at the job, all of that is stealing as well. The Book says a workman is worthy of his hire, but that goes two ways. It's theft to slight someone on a purchase, or to give less than what someone paid for. A real man looks out for others around him, even if it costs him personally less than he could have made by being a "better" businessman.

Even further, not stealing a man's horse means not taking away what a man needs to survive. You should never be the one that ruins a man's livelihood or life. Respect and concern for your fellow man should prompt someone to protect their ability to survive, as long as what they are doing isn't unjust or wrong. Stopping someone from selling Angel Dust to middle school kids is one thing, but stopping a man from selling shoes because it hurts your business is another.

3. Defend yourself whenever necessary.

In the old West there wasn't the network of law and order we take for granted. You couldn't appeal to the local police, expect a fair trial, get a local judge, or have any reasonable expectation of protection. A man had to fight for himself, or no one would. The gun battles of the old West were often wrong but sometimes a mere manner of self defense, there wasn't any law but your own right hand and the pistol at your side.

In a world where we have laws, even international laws, that involve police that move across borders and extradition treaties, the severe need for self defense is not as strong as it once was. We can reasonably rely on justice to reach us, the law or at least fear of the law to protect us. But this isn't always so. The day may come, God forbid, that you'll face danger without anyone else there to protect you. That day is the day you must be ready and able to defend yourself. That means being familiar with and ready to use a weapon or self defense, and that includes guns to this day. Taking away weapons is the first act a tyrant does to ensure his victims cannot fight back.

4. Never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy.
Sometimes known as the "rattlesnake code" like the rattlesnake who lets her rattle fly before striking. In a place without law, this code drew a line between murder and self defense. If both sides clearly knew what was coming, it was less likely one or the other was just ambushing someone to slaughter them. There were exceptions, of course. If someone was coming after you with the clear intent to kill, if they stalked you or tried repeatedly to kill you then came at you again, you were free to defend yourself. But the second lowest form of villain was the dry gulcher; the man who'd lay in wait and just assassinate their target from cover, without any chance for a fight.

The tough guy today keeps this in mind. He's not a hair trigger maniac, he'll always give his enemy a chance to back down, to know that this has gone too far. Lawyers suggest if you're going to get into a fight to hold up your hands open and facing the foe and say very loudly "I don't want to fight you." This serves two purposes, first it gives one last chance to avoid a fight. Second, and most important to the lawyer, it establishes your attempt with many witnesses to not get into the altercation, useful later for criminal charges and lawsuits. This is much like the old code of waiting until your opponent went for his gun before shooting, it was at least technical protection of self defense. Yet beyond this crass and legalistic interpretation, there's a principle for men. Don't be the guy who starts a fight, don't be the one who throws the first punch. A tough guy doesn't have to prove he's all bad, he can let his life and behavior demonstrate it by how he reacts, not how he acts. If you defend yourself, you're in the right. If you attack, then you need good reason - justice, or defending others, for instance.

*UPDATE: Wartime presumes warning. You don't need to let an enemy at war know you're there - he knows, or he wouldn't be at war.

5. Look out for your own.
This again relates to the lack of organized law in the old west: you'd have to defend your own because there wasn't an officer nearby to do it for you.

The tough guy protects his family and friends, his co workers, those related to him in some way. If each man looks out for his people, not only do they not have to defend themselves (such as children and women), but each knows that the other is defended and treats them with greater respect and dignity. Defense doesn't mean flying across the table and attacking, it can be merely pointing out an error, checking sums to see if the price is right, watching for trouble before it starts, teaching to do what is right to each member of the community. "Your own" spreads out like ripples in a pond, with each successive ripple related and enclosing the previous one. You have the initial splash of yourself and immediate loved ones, then close relatives, then friends, then acquaintances and co workers, then the neighborhood, then the town, the county, the state, the country, the continent, the planet. Your immediate responsibility lessens each ring that expands outward, as other men are covering those groups more closely, but you still are responsible to all of them. That man may not be your family, but he's a fellow member of your community. That foreign feller might not speak your language, but he's a fellow human being at the very least. Look out for them all, because responsibility knows no national boundaries or ethnic group.

6. A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy.
That man might be your enemy, but he's still a fellow man, and when he's in need, its time to set aside differences and give him a hand. That doesn't mean you stop fighting the enemy because they're losing, it doesn't mean you help a guy up you've knocked down for trying to rape your sister. It means when someone is in genuine need and you have the ability to help, you do so. Sure, you had to plug that varmint for trying to steal your saddle, but he's bleeding now, and you can bind up the wound before you take him to prison. That guy might be a rotten jerk who constantly picks on you, but when he needs help to learn to read, you can give him a hand.

You do this not because you'll win them over, not because they'll show gratitude, and not because there's some reward. You do this because it's right to do. Because it shows you're a better man, and because you owe a debt of responsibility to your own - and even your enemy is your own at some point in the ripples on the pond.

The way you react is based on need. Not what that person thinks is their need - the junkie needing another fix, the prisoner needing to escape - but actual need, real lack. Even the most rotten bastard on earth has need sometime, and that's when a real man reaches out.

*UPDATE: To clarify, if you're in a battle, you'd better be doing what is right or quit right now. But you don't stop to help your enemy because he's in need, the entire point of a battle is to put him in need. This is dealing with when you aren't engaged with the enemy. Prisoners, captives, people not in combat who you come across. Sure, this guy might hate you and be your bitter enemy, but if he's bleeding to death when you're passing by one day or starving and at your door, lend him a hand, even if he is your enemy.

7. Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.
Wearing a gun was like wearing a belt for the cowboy. He didn't wear it to be ready to kill his fellow man, he wore it as a tool, it was needed for snakes, cougars, bears, hostile Indians, rustlers, any number of problems. To go without left one defenseless and vulnerable, to wear a gun was a simple matter of being ready for the job. Yet there were places a man went without a gun because he didn't need it there, and it was rude and wrong to go heeled. This particularly applied to the dinner table, especially if women were present. Keep the gun nearby and handy for an emergency, but you didn't need it while eating in polite company. At camp, sitting in the dirt with a plate of beans and biscuits is a different story.

The cowboy was a pretty rough character - and still is. Men tend to degrade when around each other for long periods of time (which is, I believe, part of why the code came about, to counter this tendency). Without the softening and civilizing influence of women, men get dirtier, rougher, cruder, and more wild. Women can overdo this influence, which is the subject for another essay, but men definitely overdo their masculinity when set apart. Swearing is just one symptom of this, it's the expression of someone frustrated and lacking vocabulary and sophistication to deal with the problem at hand. My mother always called it the result of a "bankrupt vocabulary" - its the easy way out, you don't have to think, you just fire off a word.

Yet the cowboy always understands that there are times and places he needs to restrain that tendency, to clean up inside and out. Cuss around horses, cows, and men, but not around women and kids, was the rule. You changed your behavior based on where you were and what you were doing - and especially who else was there.

Today, this extends to basic courtesy and manners. Each situation has its own unique set of manners. What makes sense in church doesn't necessarily on the job 200 feet up on a steel girder, or out on a hunt. When you're in a polite situation, dealing with gentle folk, then have a gentle demeanor, treat them and what they believe and expect with the respect you'd want. Be ready for each situation to approach it appropriately, rather than forcing your version of life on every single situation in a crude, brainless manner. Know when to be polite and when not to. Know how to behave with a lady and a lout.

8. Honesty is absolute - your word is your bond, a handshake is more binding than a contract.
There were no lawyers to draw up contracts, many men didn't even know how to read or write. There was no law to make sure you did what you said, many times there weren't even any men around to witness the agreement. All that any man had was his word, and either you kept it, or you were known as a low down, lyin' snake, at best. Word spread around camp to camp, and you were ruined. Friendless, jobless, aimless. You'd proved you were worthless and not to be trusted - until you could build up a new reputation somewhere they hadn't heard of you (see 1, above).

A real man, a tough guy, has integrity. His word is reliable, he will, insofar as he is capable of doing so in this life, keep promises he's made. He will remember what he's said and live up to it, he will not go back on an agreement, no matter how much it hurts him. In the process, he learns to make no promises he can't be reasonably sure to keep, he will avoid agreements he can't expect to honor. Integrity is a life, not an action, it defines you as a person. Be trustworthy and honorable, be reliable in even the smallest things, and you'll be a man. Fail to and you're nothing.

9. Don't make a threat without expecting dire consequences.
Threats are not idle, particularly in a place where every man carried a deadly weapon. Related to the above code, if you said something, you'd either best back it up or your word is useless. And the above shows what a man without his word is worth.

This extends to modern life in several ways. The most egregious and troubling failure of this code is in parents who threaten one thing and never follow through. Children learn quickly that a parent's word is worthless and their punishments are not to be feared. They will immediately take advantage of this to feed their immature desires and unformed ethical decisions. Parents must follow through on threats - and must threaten only what they can and ought to follow through on. Threatening to cave your kid's head in is not only unlikely but horrid. Threatening to make them do without toys if they won't put them away is proper and good.

Yet even those without children need to follow this code. A promise and a threat are two sides of the same coin, and a man of integrity is hesitant to give either but unswerving in carrying either out. Be it at work or in play, in dealing with strangers or family, integrity demands that you do what you have said. Be very cautious to issue a threat, knowing the burden it carries.

10. Never pass anyone on the trail without saying "Howdy".
A man could ride for weeks without seeing another soul, and just a friendly hello was enough to help with that loneliness and isolation. It served a greater purpose, however. It demonstrated that you were friendly and not possibly hostile. It showed you were alive and healthy, rather than in need. That simple greeting was a significant statement.

Today, simple politeness goes a long ways. Even strangers are people you should be polite to. Whether they respond in kind, or at all, is their problem, not yours. Always be the one who smiles, nods, shakes the hand, acknowledges the other person's presence. Without this simple part of life, we become more and more isolated, more cut off and separated from each other and the community erodes in the process. It's harder to be mean or to maltreat someone you've been polite to - and that can be the tiny thing that makes the difference. Being polite shows a minimum of concern about the other person. It demonstrates you care whether they live or die, at least a little.

But remember the two codes above: don't say it if you don't mean it. Don't ask how someone is just out of habit, ask because you want to know.

11. Do not practice ingratitude.
This is one of those universal rules that applies in all places to all people. In the West, the man who has little but his clothes, horse, and tack has every reason to be grateful for everything he gets, no matter how small. That meal might be horrible, but at least you didn't have to cook it. That hat might be ugly, but they gave you something.

Ingratitude is the mark of a small person with a big ego. Small because they are overly concerned over meaningless things, and big because they think they are worth more than they were given. An overinflated vision of one's self might delude me into thinking that I should have better than the gift I'm given, when a realistic vision understands I deserve nothing, and a gift by definition is extra, a special gesture beyond what I'm worth. Ingratitude shows a man is mean and petty.

12. A cowboy is pleasant even when out of sorts.
Related to 11 above is the mood. When faced with hardship every day, the last thing anyone wanted to hear was whining. It was rough enough sleeping on hard ground and working in thunderstorms with fickle and contrary cow critters without having the guy next to you complaining about it all the time.

When life gives you lemons, suck it up and do your job. Complaining can show weakness of spirit, it demonstrates that you believe you ought to have things better, that you're being mistreated. Even if you are being mistreated, complaining won't fix that, and it makes everyone else in the same situation even more miserable. A tough guy, a real leader looks for ways to make the situation better. He takes charge, he takes action, and he does what has to be done. If the situation can't be changed, he gets the job done as soon as possible so it can get over with. It's one thing to complain where appropriate: "guys, I broke my leg." It's another to complain just because you are unhappy: "I hate my job, don't you hate this job, this place sucks, let me count the ways."

13. Complain about the cooking and you become the cook.
Cooking was actually one of the hardest jobs on the trail. Feeding dozens if not scores of hungry men every day with just what you can pack on a wagon was a chore, one that took hours. There wasn't ready food, you had to pack and find fuel for the fires. You didn't have special utensils, you had a few pots and pans. You got paid better, but you worked for it. And if someone complained, well let them try it a while.

Related to 12 above, if you can't do it better, keep your yap shut. It's one thing to be usefully critical about something, it's another to just complain, particularly in an ungrateful manner. Sure, you hate beets but you didn't have to cook them, either and someone put in the effort. Gag em down or don't but keep your mouth and your expression shut. Generally speaking you'll notice that someone who has done a hard job is significantly less likely to whine about the quality of that work than someone who has not. I welcome criticism about my work, I know that despite my efforts the grammar I use is sometimes tortured and I make errors. I need to know that to do a better job. At the same time, I don't welcome just pointless attacks and whining. Don't care for how a blogger deleted your comment or won't post on something?

Make your own blog.

14. Always be courageous.
Every man relied on his fellow in danger or trouble to be there at his side, facing danger. It helped each other man be strong, and it protected them. A coward or someone who cringed at danger at your side meant that side wasn't protected. If you're under attack by bandits, you can't afford to have one man not giving his all.

Courage means more than fighting in a time of danger. Allow me to quote myself from Considering Virtues:
Courage is not fearlessness, it is the ability to function and do what is right even while one is afraid. Fear does not indicate a lack of courage - failing to act properly out of fear does. My favorite example of courage is in To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout considers her father Atticus Finch to be the height of courage because he alone in the town stood up to a rabid dog and shot him in the streets. This did take a sort of courage, but Atticus wanted Scout to understand this virtue better.

He had Scout spend the whole summer reading to and spending time with an old woman who was dying. The old woman smelled funny, was boring and confused, drooled and was in general someone no child would want to spend time with. But Scout spent time each day the whole summer with this woman until she died. Courage is doing what is right even if you personally do not want to - it is related to fortitude in this way.

A lack of courage leads one to take the easiest path, to avoid things one does not prefer to do, and to show intemperance in life. Cowardly behavior leads one to avoid virtue because those around may mock or belittle you. Courage requires one to do what is right, even if the world says one is wrong. Courage requires one to do what is right and be ready to pay the price - because there almost always is one.
A courageous man faces what he has without shirking and without turning back. This might be changing a diaper, it might be yet another day on the job when he feels he just can't stand it one more day, it might be swallowing his pride and admitting he's wrong, it might be facing the enemy even though it means sacrifice and a hard, long battle. But a tough guy has courage, the kind of courage that is shown by his behavior and not his attitude or his aggressiveness.

17. Never try on another man's hat.
This one sounds kind of funny, but it actually is pretty significant. It relates to horse theivin' in number 2. This is simple respect for the property of others. If you treat people with respect and dignity, you will do so with what they own, no matter how trivial or stupid it seems to you. Sure, I can't stand those little pillows women seem compelled to pile up on couches. But they like them, and they belong to the women, so you treat them with respect. Sure, I think disco is horrible, but someone might like it, so I shouldn't play frisbee with his Saturday Night Fever disc. If you borrow something, return it in at least the same quality as you got it - or replace it. If you use someone's car, bring it back with gas in the tank. Treat people's goods like you'd treat your own, or at least how you'd rather they did.

16. No matter how weary and hungry you are after a long day in the saddle, always tend to your horse's needs before your own, and get your horse some feed before you eat.
What's that you say? You don't treat your own stuff with respect, either? Well a real man does. He knows that what he has represents him, and if his stuff looks shabby, he reveals himself to be a shabby man. He doesn't have to look pretty, his stuff doesn't have to be the latest, most fashionable, or best. It just has to be cared for and tended, properly treated. What you own is what you use, and if you don't take care of it, you won't use it long. That means cleaning and maintaining, it means putting it away carefully and using without dirtying. This can start right here, while you read. Have you checked your computer for viruses? Spyware? Do you have files on it you don't need? Are they scattered all over and hard to find? How long has it been since you defragmented your drives? Is the keyboard covered with cat hair and cheeto crumbs? Is the mouse sticking because it's never cleaned?

The attitude you have for your own goods should extend to other peoples' as well, and I'm just terrible at this one. My room looks like a bomb went off, I hang up clothes sometimes, sometimes they are in piles I remember. I don't wash my sheets enough, I rarely make my bed. I'm not a slob, but I'm no exemplar of this code, either. A cowboy knew that everything he had was from the Man upstairs, who owes him nothing. It's ungracious to treat what you have in this manner.

17. Real cowboys are modest.
This more than most of the codes separates the real from the fake tough guy. The fake tough guy feels the compulsion to ooze toughness and show it to the world at every single opportunity. They do so often by telling everyone how bad they are, how dangerous they are, how strong they are, how many guys they've beat up, how many people fear them. Put on any rap CD and chances are you'll hear at least one song that is full of this phony bravado. You're a minstrel, not a soldier, we like to hear you entertain us, but keep the self aggrandizement down to a dull roar.

A real tough guy doesn't talk about his accomplishments, he may even downplay them if he truly understands their relative worth. Sure, he might be a terrific linguist, but really does that compare to delivering babies? Yeah, he might have an unbelievable ability to cook, but really what does that matter? When the situation comes up, he does the work competently and the best he can, and does not need praise or recognition - the job its self is enough. A real tough guy is known for being what a fake tough guy needs to convince others he is.

18. Never shoot a woman nor mistreat her no matter what.
Sure, some women deserved shootin', although they were rare. Some women are every bit as low down and evil as men, and they should face justice. But the cowboy had a unique perspective: women were rare and special. You could go years without seeing a female face, and it was even more rare she wasn't married off. Mistreating a woman was grounds for every man within a mile descending on you. Even women who really were obnoxious or awful were treated with more respect because of their femininity.

Today's constant effort to treat women and men as functionally equivalent and interchangeable has not removed this tendency in the west. Women are still treated better than men by most men, a feature that women in other countries often find very appealing in American men. The tough guy treats women as weaker and more fragile than he is, and not just because most of them are. The tough guy is establishing a pattern of behavior for himself so that he reflexively and naturally responds this way in every situation. He's teaching other men and boys how to treat a woman. He's showing women that they are different and ought to behave differently. The results to society can be profound.

Women are, as I said above, a civilizing influence to men, but that has to be nurtured as well. It tends to come naturally, but if it's ground into the dirt by encouraging women to be every bit as crude and brutish as men, and men to treat women as no different than men, then that civilizing influence is stifled, even destroyed. Society flourishes by having both the strengths of men and the strengths of women to build and maintain it. Eliminating one or the other weakens the whole.

19. Respect the land.
Sportsmen, outdoorsmen, hunters, fishers, hikers, and cowboys are among the world's foremost conservationists. They live in and enjoy and among the wild and their scenery in a way that people who live in cities can only imagine. The beauty and the majesty of the outdoors is a real and every day feature of their life, not a sometime event for vacation or a special event. They live off the land in many cases, and more than most want it protected and not raped. The man who started the National Park system, who popularized the stuffed animal bear as a toy - the Teddy Bear - was Teddy Roosevelt, a hunter and sportsman famous for his exploits with a rifle. The railroad men, for all their faults, were so overwhelmed by the spectacular sights they met in driving rail across America that they were among the strongest supporters of protecting these lands.

The real man knows and understands his environment is where he lives, and he cares for it in the way he cares for the stuff he has. A tough guy knows how to survive and deal with his environment - be it city, wilderness, or ocean, and does so with respect for it. He wants to care for this not because he wants it pristine and untouched, but so that he can return to it to use it for his needs and for others to enjoy and use it. If it's all used up, nobody gets to it any more. The preservationist wants everything to stay exactly how it is - climate and stone, animal and tree - and the conservationist wants it to be protected and used.

This is a man who faces adversity with an eye for how it may be overcome, for how others can be protected, for how it can be used to their advantage, and how it can be a test of his abilities and strengths. The real tough guy faces work and play the same way: not too much, but without slacking off or laziness. Each task is to be done the best one can, honestly and properly, without complaint or sloth.

Faux Tough GuyThe real tough guy doesn't have to pose, declare his toughness, he respects others and is polite, he doesn't feel the need to look pretty or show off. He does his job, he knows he's doing right. He's quiet, steadfast, and faces adversity without complaint and with quiet competence.

The real tough guy is knocked down and gets back up to face the job once more. He doesn't run from or to trouble, but he faces it unflinching. A real tough guy gives it all he has, without backing down, and without being a tyrant. This world needs more tough guys and fewer brutes and thugs.

*Belated tip of the Stetson to American Digest for the inspiration behind this post.
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Gerard said...

Nice. Much more thoughtful and insightful than my send up at:

Christopher Taylor said...

No, that's where I was inspired, and come to think of it I should put a hat tip on there for you. I couldn't add anything to what you did :)

viktor silo said...

OK, you've said what a tough guy isn't. Now tell us what a tough guy is.

viktor silo said...

Ah, yes: Read the Rest. And so I did.

Under the title, Code of the West, Point 1 says: "Don't inquire into a man's past." I say: always inquire into a man's past. A man's past tells you about his values. His values are his "leopard's spots."

Point 4 says: "Never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy." I say: if a man is your enemy and needs killing, the best and safest way to do it is to sneak up on him when he is unarmed and his back is turned. You think that this is not fair but I would remind you that the man is, in your words, the E.N.E.M.Y. Why should you put your life at risk? When it comes to enemies, always ask, "What would Patton do?"

Point 5. says: Look out for your own." This is good advice.

Point 6. says: "A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy." Helping strangers as long as it doesn't interfere with point 5 is OK but helping your E.N.E.M.Y.? If I was fighting the enemy and I found one in distress, I would help him up and then tell him to high-tail it. Then, when he was running away, I would shoot him in the back. The guy wouldn't know what hit him. This is as much mercy as he would get.

Points 8 through 17 are, also, good advice.

Point 18 says: "Never shoot a woman nor mistreat her no matter what." Then you immediately go on to say, "Sure, some women deserved shootin'"

Some women deserve shootin'? Kid, you don't know the half of it.

Christopher Taylor said...

During war every soldier knows he's had fair warning, he knows there's someone coming after him.

But you should always help any in need - but as I pointed out, what he wants and what he needs may be two different things, and justice takes precedent over compassion.

The Monster said...

Since you've said you need occasional help with grammar etc....

Even women who really were obnoxious or awful were were treated with more respect because of there femininity.

The word you're looking for there is "their". Just remember that there, where and here all are places.

The Monster said...

(And you repeated the word 'were'.)

President Friedman said...

C_T, this was a great column, I meant to post a response this weekend but was busy painting and laying tile until late last night.

I'd add two rules:

"Never piss into the wind." I've been around cowboys all my life and this is a staple of cowboy philosophy. This one has two meanings: First, think about what you're doing. Many is the cowboy who has met disasterous consequences while performing a seemingly simple activity without first thinking about what he was doing. Second, don't waste your effort on something that you can't achieve. If you weigh 105 pounds and want to be a starting linebacker for the high school football team, you may as well be pissing in the wind.

"Sit in the middle." This is more of a modern-day cowboy rule, but it still applies. It has to do with what happens when three cowboys get into a pick-up truck. The smart one always sits in the middle. The guy in the middle doesn't have to drive, and he doesn't have to get out in the rain, heat, or snow to open any gates. This isn't the same as laziness, because if the cowboy were sitting on the end he would uncomplainingly perform the required duties. It has to do with forward thinking, and doing little things to keep your life as simple as possible.

Christopher Taylor said...

Monster: thanks for the sharp eye! I don't edit very carefully, it comes out more or less the way I thought of it, which means sometimes the results are a bit mangled.

And I prefer "A man's got to know his limitations" but the principle is the same, and the version you use is more authentic cowboy.

western mens said...

great post you have here..those advice are great..A real man/tough guy is the one who knows how to respect himself and others, polite, does his job, true to himself and others, does right things, and knows how to face and fix problems..

Aron said...

Sounds like the way that my dad would put it. Dad would also have had Micah 6:8 in mind:"He hath shewed thee, O man, what [is] good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
~Aron <><