For much of my adult life, I’ve struggled with cowboy pride. Not in terms of acting on an overabundance of it—although I’ve got my fair share—but understanding how the concept fits what I think a cowboy is and what a person ought to be.

At its worst, cowboy pride is the feeling of superiority that folks wearing spurs and a hat acquire from their profession and skills. At its best, cowboy pride is that force that gets a cowboy up before dawn and keeps him out long after dusk, working with the gumption to do what’s right no matter the obstacles.

First, the bad. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting cowboys from across the nation. Everyone has their preferred way of doing things. That’s okay. It’s the bullheaded insistence on their way—and the condescending tone while spouting their views—that I find utterly insufferable.

I’ve seen bad cowboy pride crop up when people are so set in their ways that it hurts themselves and those nearby. Michael Martin Murphey sings a song about a man refusing to admit his mistakes as a husband while his marriage crumbles…and it’s called “Cowboy Pride.” Proverbs reads, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Some cowboys are so pride-bound they refuse to do any work without a horse between their legs—and will pack their bedroll if asked to do so. It’s a romantic notion, but if that’s where you make your stand, there’s a limit to how far you can go. Try running a ranch without picking up a pencil, grabbing a pair of fencing pliers, or flipping down a welding helmet. That’s why those fellas tend to drift.

But there’s a good side, too. Most notably, it’s the pride a cowboy takes in doing his job well. Often, cowboys are set to a task alone, doing the best they can with no one looking over their shoulder. If a cow is bogged down in the mud, it’d be easier to ride on by and tell the boss you never saw her. Pride—and integrity, I suppose—are what makes a cowboy do the right thing, and spend all day mud wrestling an old mossy horn only to have her hook you when she’s freed.

Cowboys don’t earn much financially. They live in remote places, working land and cattle that belong to someone else. It’s easy to understand that for some, pride may be the most valuable thing that comes from their chosen career.

The real quality at hand here might not be pride, but knowing when to employ it. Sometimes it’s proper to set your jaw, dig in your heels, and grit through a job, while other times call for humility, understanding, and forgiveness. Solomon, after telling us about pride in the Good Book, writes this: “The wise of heart is called discerning…”

Hopefully we’re not so prideful we can’t take a word of advice from the wisest man in history.

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