The Lone Ranger, Tonto and Me

“Silence, intense and oppressive, gripped the desolate landscape as two lone figures rode toward the town ahead.

“The taller of the two sat astride a magnificent white stallion and although his face was masked, all who had known him knew that he was as legendary for his remarkable sense of justice and fair play as for his skill with six-gun, rope and horse. His faithful Indian friend was his only companion.

“A few miles more and they’d arrive in Pine Needle, a small mining town on the other side of Flint Ridge.  It had been a long ride, harder than most but a satisfying one, nonetheless.

“The Lone Ranger and Tonto had successfully captured Buck Bledsoe and his gang.  They retrieved the payroll money stolen from Dave Collins and saved the Lucky Strike mine from imminent bankruptcy not to mention the jobs of many of the town’s small population.   All that remained was to ride to the other side of that ridge and they could call it another job well done.”

That was part of the opening story for what would become the beginning of a series of talks on ethics to corporations, associations, schools and conferences around the country.

In March of 1995, I completed The Josephson Institute’s“general sector training program.”  Known as Ethics Corps, the program was an outgrowth of what thirty character educators from around the country had determined to be universal, ethical values as outlined in The Aspen Declaration: Trustworthiness –(Honesty, Integrity, Promise-keeping, Loyalty), Respect, Responsibility, Fairness & Justice, Caring, and Civic Virtue & Citizenship.

“These core, ethical values,” the Declaration stated, “transcend cultural, religious, and socio-economic differences.”

I quickly realized, however, that I needed a story to add interest and color to what an audience might easily perceive as a straight “eat-your-spinach-it’s-good-for-you” talk.

I had just finished writing a magazine article on the creation of the Lone Ranger and discovered that the character was created to be both entertaining and teach kids the difference between right and wrong. In fact, the character was built around several moral values.  What if I could create an interesting Lone Ranger story to make my point?

So, let’s get back to the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

“All that remained was to ride to the other side of that ridge and they could call it another job well done.  But first, they stop to water their horses.

“As they do, the Ranger goes to his saddle bags and removes the money.  Counting the gold coins by hand, he starts  to figure, ‘Bullets, $20; food while tracking the outlaws, $3.00 a day for five days, that’s $15; health insurance, $10; laundry, $5…’

“‘Ah, excuse me, Kemo Sabay,’ Tonto says, ‘but don’t forget about the Vet bill for Scout shot in gun battle.’

“‘Thanks, Tonto,’ the masked man says, then proceeds to add another $15. ‘That takes care of expenses. Now, our 30% finder’s fee should complete the total.  Here’s your share, Tonto,’ the Ranger says as he hands his faithful friend his portion of proceeds. A moment later, the masked rider of the plains leaped onto his sturdy horse.

“The Indian eyed his share skeptically but returned to his saddle without a word.

“Later, in Pine Needle, after the Ranger and Tonto delivered the money to Dave Collins and left town in their usual uncelebrated manner, a few more facts come to light, disturbing facts.  For one thing, the Ranger never mentioned anything about expenses or a finder’s fee.  For another, he told Tonto that they would always split fifty-fifty, but the sharp eyes of the Indian recognized that his take had been reduced by a whopping 15%!

“And what about the payroll money, how is Dave going to pay all the people in the town without the right amount?   Who’s going to ‘eat’ the difference?

“After deducting for expenses plus a little ‘put-by’ for himself, Dave  tells his workers that he’ll divide the money in a ‘fair-shared sacrifice’ and everyone seems to go along with this. Everyone, that is, except Foreman Ed, who decides that Dave’s offer isn’t good enough and begins to pocket a few extra nuggets when no one is looking.  ‘After all,’ he rationalizes, ‘Dave owes it to me. I work hard and I need every bit I can get!’

“Meanwhile, back on the prairie, after a hearty meal, Tonto’s tethering the horses for the night when he notices that the masked man has fallen asleep. Quietly, the Indian creeps over to his companion’s saddle bags and retrieves his missing share.  After a second thought, he ‘bags’ a few silver bullets for himself.  ‘Besides,’ he reasoned, ‘the Ranger never started that retirement IRA he promised me last year.’

“Hold it!  Wait a second!!

“What’s going on here?  Lying, cheating, stealing?  Where is the honesty, the respect and has anyone see fairness, lately?

“What do we care about? What do we stand for? If we all want to do the right thing, then what is the right thing and can we stand by our principles in the face of those who may not agree?”

The reaction from about four-hundred teachers of the California Teachers Association was overwhelming and immediate.

“Excellent speaker… can’t wait to get the book… entertaining with a worthwhile message… could we have a copy of the speech?”

What began as a talk on ethics quickly became The Lone Ranger’s Code of the West – An action-packed adventure in values and ethics, a book that would be used in ethics classes in schools.

What I did not realize until much later was that I had not only achieved my own goal of making the subject of ethics not only entertaining, approachable and clear, but I had also fulfilled Michael Josephson’s appeal to use the vast amount of text and training he had given me to teach and talk about ethics to a variety of groups around the country.

What began as an idea for a little book quickly became a new career; one that was not only unexpected but would help to create an awareness of ethics and the importance it plays in all of our lives.

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