Tradition and principles: WACD keynote emphasizes Code of the West in good governmentWritten by Saige Albert
Riverton - From across the state, conservation district representatives, government officials and natural resource managers gathered in Riverton Nov. 15-17 to look at “Excellence in Resource Stewardship through Excellence in Governance” during the 71st Annual Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Convention.
The convention’s General Session kicked off with keynote speaker Ann Moore, the executive director of the Center for Cowboy Ethics, who detailed the importance of the Code of the West in everyday life.
“The Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts membership is well aware of the tradition of principles and leadership that Wyoming has established,” said Moore. “This is what sets Wyoming apart from others.”
Moore continued, “Through the theme of this convention, WACD has made an honest and bold proclamation that is much needed at this time in our country.”
Recent history has resulted in what Moore called an “accentuated decline in excellence in governance, resulting in an erosion in American value and character.”
Moore described the “new low” that the U.S. government has reached in terms of aligning to a moral compass.
“When an individual, organization or country loses its moral character and its compass, it’s akin to a ship without a rudder or a cowboy without his hand,” she said. “It’s not by accident that Wyoming is the first and only state in the union that has a code that goes well beyond the boilerplate statement of ethical government.”
Wyoming signed a bill into law on March 3, 2010 that established the Code of the West as Wyoming’s ethical code.
“The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Anderson, had powerful words for Wyoming that day,” Moore explained. “He said, ‘These are the things I was raised by. These are the things I see my 84-year-old father-in-law live his life by, and would simply say to the rest of Wyoming, to the United States and, for that matter, to the world that these are the things that we hold dear.’”
By abiding by the Code of the West, Moore noted that government can be transformed from good to great.
“Good governance is accountable, participatory, responsible, equitable, inclusive, effective and efficient. Good governance follows the rule of law,” she explained. “However, if we simply replace the textbook definition of good governance with the Code of the West, we get excellence in governance.”
“In Wyoming, we have the Code of the West, a set of simple, timeless principles that give us the best in government and in ourselves,” Moore added. “If individuals, families, corporations and government entities followed the Code of the West, we would quickly return to the great country our was when the West was settled.”
Starting in classrooms
Moore used Cowboy Ethics, James P. Owens’ book, and translated it to her senior-level English class in 2008.
“With a course title as exciting as, ‘Reading and Studying for Success,’ I knew I had to find a book that would inspire students to take control of their lives and their futures,” Moore said. “Cowboy Ethics has literally transformed the lives of hundreds of my students and many, many more across the country.”
Because students face challenges that range from social and economic issues to family strain and drug and alcohol pressures, she noted that the Code of the West provides a tool to teach students about strong family values and hard work, while emphasizing leadership, citizenship and scholarship.
After students are educated about the 10 principles in the Code of the West, Moore introduces them to the 11th principle.
“The 11th principle is the principle that students come up with on their own,” Moore said. “It is when students develop their own code to live by. That is when I often witness the fundamental change in their confidence and outlook on school and life.”
Moving to government
“If we each had to write an 11th principle, what would it be?” asked Moore. “The beginning of the American’s Creed, written in 1917, is a good place to start. It says, ‘I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people.’”
She also noted that with a prevailing attitude that asks what’s in it for me, rather than focus on “us,” there are some changes that are necessary to see growth in America.
“We have a deep yearning for a simpler time, a time where we could count of people to keep their word,” she continued. “The good guys need to stand up and restore trust in governance and business, and the good guys are from Wyoming.”
Because Wyoming lives by “timeless, universal core values,” the state is poised to serve as a model for the rest of the country, she said.
“The Code of the West is alive and well in Wyoming, due to hard work and everyday actions, not by merely talk,” Moore said.
“Organizations that demonstrate ethical leadership are going to stand out in the crowd,” Moore said. “People are going to want to do business with those folks. They are going to trust them.”
She added, “We need the everyday heroes of Wyoming to refocus our society on winning in ways that will work for everyone, not just a few.”