Why calling people "cowboys" is wrong

You follow standards, you follow procedures, you follow policies. You’re making sure that things are done consistently, on schedule, on budget. You’re one of those people who have ensured that their work (and their legacy) will outlive you.

Then you see something that’s against everything you stand for, and the first word out of your mouth is that the antithesis of you is “a cowboy”. People nod, and comment how people shouldn’t be doing things like that.

But you know what? That’s an insult to cowboys.

Now I’ll freely admit that I’m a city boy, born and raised. I’ve been on a horse so few times that I can count it on one hand and still have a digit left to pick my uninformed nose.

But, living in Alberta, I’ve been introduced to a number of cowboys. Real ones. People who ride horses not because it’s cool, but because horses don’t spook the much larger, heavier, and dangerous cattle. The people who know how to handle a herd of hundreds. People who help ensure that food gets to my plate.

And that’s my point: Cowboys, real ones, are dependable, smart, aware of their situations, and very capable. They have their standards, procedures, and policies, and you even think of deviating from those, you’re out of work. Because you’re putting not only the cattle, but other humans, at risk by doing something stupid.

Over time, we’ve come to associate the term “cowboy” less with the people who actually worth with animals, to the stereotypical “wild west” loner who strays into a one-horse town, shakes it up, and leaves. (Though, even then, that model is usually about a (anti-)hero who comes to save the day.) And maybe those people are disruptive, but they’re definitely not a cowboy.

So the next time you see someone running against all the rules, maybe consider a different term. Allow me to provide a few:

and my personal favourite:

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