Did you ever play cowboys and Indians? Maybe you are too young to have that childhood pastime as part of your history. You might even be so young that even knowing how to play cowboys and Indians didn’t make it into your skill set. If you want to test your non–digital playtime acuity, try this very short pop quiz.


When a few children – almost always all boys – got together to play cowboys and Indians, how did the kids decide who were the Indians?


They usually didn’t. There were only cowboys. The Indians were a figment of their vivid imaginations.


What was the point of playing cowboys and Indians?


To run around stealthily and somewhat randomly while shooting imaginary Indians with cap cracking six–shooters.

How did you do? If you passed the quiz with flying colors, you also know that the Indians always lost, and the cowboys never failed to vanquish those primitive savages. The good guys always won and the bad guys always either died during the battle or tucked tail and ran.

Are you up to another test of your non–digital acuity? If so, let’s play any variation of good guys and bad guys. The good guys were a lot like cowboys but were intent on ridding the range of outlaws and rustlers. The story changed only in the details and criminal transgressions.

Once I was a little squirt,
Silver buttons on my shirt,
I’d climb atop my wooden steed,
Be quickly off with lightening speed.

I’d ride the range from east to west,
A silver star pinned on my chest,
A holstered gun in easy reach,
Villains to catch and lessons to teach.

On winter days and summer nights,
Bar room brawls and wild gun fights,
My lawman life would twist and spin,
Nary a doubt about who would win.

The black hats fell; the white hats stood.
Justice prevailed; evil bested by good.
Rules were simple, no room for doubt.
Break the law, you get taken out.

The story could be continued in any of a thousand directions, but the theme never changes. It’s easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys, the winners from the losers. There is no ambiguity, no shades of gray. The world clearly splits into good and bad, right and wrong, just and unjust, the white hats and black hats.

I now know that our reality isn’t so easily understood and truly never was. That world of right versus wrong, good guys versus bad guys, just versus unjust was and still is but a myth perpetuated to shield unsuspecting children and naive adults from the harsh truth. Winners do cheat and cheaters frequently win. Right doesn’t always prevail over wrong. Police and priests don’t necessarily make moral choices or serve as good role models for the rest of us. Politicians and our civic leaders are often less committed to the welfare and well–being of the rest of us than to their personal interests and self–dealing schemes. Trustworthy news source is an oxymoron along with personal privacy and secure employment; and whatever you think is solid enough that you can take it to the bank is something to hold on to, since the bank may not be there when you arrive.

We find ourselves in what seems like a far different reality than the one we knew in years past. The President sometimes lies and misleads. Congress and our legislatures play power politics instead of pursuing the art of negotiation and compromise. The Supreme court in Washington and the Supreme courts in our states, along with the lower courts, are more political than objective, more partisan than neutral. The FBI and other public institutions are at least as controlled by interest groups and politicians as by justice, fairness, and the rule of law.

The ways in which our new reality diverges from the reality we knew in years past seems unrecognizable and mostly mystifying. It feels like a quantum shift. I’m not sure exactly what a quantum shift actually is, but I’m pretty sure that it’s a really big change. Things sure aren’t like they were back then, or at least that is how we characterize the reality in which we live today.

Much changes over time. That’s clearly true. It’s equally true that much stays virtually the same over time. It depends on whether we focus our attention on what is changing or on the constants in our lives. It also depends on how accurately we are perceiving our world.

Consider this. Our reality has not changed nearly as much as we have changed over the years. There were good guys and bad guys back then, as is still true; but we have changed. We have lost our innocence. No longer can we fit everyone into either the good guy box or the bad guy box. People are far too complex and nuanced for such a simple identification. What’s more, we can’t always be totally sure which box we best fit into.

Presidents and other politicians lied and self–dealt back then as they do today. They also did good work and valued doing right by all of us as they still do. Our courts were political and biased back then but also strove to be objective and neutral within the law, as is their goal today. Our public institutions were controlled by interest groups and politicians while trying very hard to serve the public interest and stay true to the rule of law. They too continue this longstanding tradition. Power politics was the order of the day back then and from that perspective, not much has changed.

Our reality has shifted this way and that, leaned one way or the other over the years. Our world is far from static. Our hope must be that it is nonetheless stable enough that it doesn’t jump the rails. That’s the social contract now and was the same back then. The real difference is that back then, we were too young or too naive to actually understand the social contract and our risks and responsibilities under it.

Let me close this up with a thought about what we can do now that we are likely too old or not nearly naive enough to play cowboys and Indians.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” –– Edward Everett Hale

A similar sentiment was expressed by William Penn “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

With those kind thoughts uppermost, I will simply say be well, do well, and be sure to vote. It’s still your best shot at making sure it really is the good guys who are running things.