Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Gordon Robinson | A leopard never changes its spots

Published:Sunday | December 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Senator Al Franken, D-Minnesota, arrives with his wife, Franni Bryson, on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 7. Franken resigned after being hit by a wave of sexual harassment allegations that have swept aside dozens of high-profile leaders in business, entertainment, media and politics.

By and large, cliches are lazy, mindless, foolish generalisations created as a refuge for the thoughtless.

However, some cliches have worth. At the top of my very shortlist is 'a leopard never changes his spots'. If only we'd understand and accept this truism, we wouldn't waste time trying to change each other. For example, why are talk-show 'experts' so anxious to prove whose morality is superior?

I suffered through a prime (-time) example of this on November 28 because I wanted to catch the name of a medical doctor calmly postulating a valid opinion on abortion while Professor Dr Carolyn Cooper (also with a valid but opposing opinion) breached debating etiquette by repeatedly speaking over and interrupting the doctor and generally giving the impression Prof Cooper's view was the only rational one.

The absurdity of the entire process was highlighted when at the end, one co-host exposed her incapacity (or disinclination) for listening by erroneously announcing that BOTH "panellists" had proposed that abortion should be legalised. Sigh.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste

And remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,

Be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly

And listen to others

Even the dull and the ignorant.

They, too, have their story.

People don't change. Allegiances don't change. Opinions don't change. The utility of the ballot is overrated. It changes nothing; only decides which opinion shall, at least temporarily, prevail. Not even the court changes anything. It can only declare winners and losers. This is why a good judge understands that his/her role is to decide, while bad judges descend into the arena and ask questions of witnesses, usually at length and often unrelated to the issues before the court.

In 1625, Lord (Francis) Bacon, taking a break from his playwriting hobby as William Shakespeare, wrote an excellent book titled The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall; of Judicature, in which he proposed "patience and gravity of hearing is an essential part of justice; and an overspeaking judge is no well-tuned cymbal".

Avoid loud and aggressive persons.

They are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,

You may become vain and bitter

For always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

I recommend Lord Bacon's gem to all who wish to live a stress-free life, including those who aspire to sit on the Bench. I have no idea how a cymbal is "tuned", but I do know that when you listen, you learn; when you speak, you teach, especially about yourself. Most self-exposures can be embarrassing, and I've too often chuckled quietly at overspeaking TV analysts and seethed at the injustice meted out by overspeaking judges not to appreciate Lord Bacon's wisdom.

A friend and colleague (from the Inner Bar) recently loaned me a most readable book titled A Short Book of Bad Judges by Graeme Williams, QC, and I was struck by the similarity between the traits of a bad judge as specified by the author and those of bad public commentators or foolish people.

According to Mr Williams, a bad judge suffers from:

1. Supposed omniscience;

2. All-too-real pomposity (usually driven by parochial experience; too much exposure to the same lawyers/litigants);

3. Excessive intervention.

You are a child of the universe.

No less than the trees and the stars,

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you

No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Legendary writer V.S. Naipaul, born in 1932 on Marcus Garvey's birthday, authorised one Patrick French to produce a no-holds-barred biography titled The World Is What It Is. Naipaul, an uncompromising philosopher who looked unflinchingly at things as they are and never averted his gaze, understood that a leopard doesn't change its spots. He's the perfect example.

A brilliant artist but demonic person, he abused his wife, the person who kept him from drowning when he was at his lowest point, but who, as soon as he became famous, turned into the butt of his notorious irascibility and violent nature. They met as two highly repressed and untutored virgins and a true sexual connection never formed. So Naipaul frequented prostitutes but remained unsatisfied. The couple moved often, not as adventurers, but as a chronically dissatisfied pair of dislocated nomads.

Eventually, Naipaul's life changed when he met and had a 25-year affaire with the much younger Margarita (a reminder of the dancer by the same name who bewitched Don Drummond?). She was 30, unhappily married with three children, and his wife's opposite: "tempestuous, cynical, and sexy". The affaire set free all his desires and fantasies. He told a disapproving friend: "I'm having carnal pleasure for the first time in my life. Are you saying I must give it up?"

But for Naipaul, the leopard whose spots couldn't change, carnal pleasure meant violence. He'd beat Margarita; degrade her in bed; make her turn his penis into an object of worship. How do I know? Because Naipaul told Patrick French, who faithfully reproduced Naipaul's narrative. Example: "I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt. ... She didn't mind it at all [she says otherwise] ... . Her face was bad. She couldn't appear really in public ... . I was utterly helpless. I have enormous sympathy for people who do strange things out of passion."




If more of us accepted that the world is what it is and leopards never change their spots, we'd stop shoving our personal morality down others' throats and focus more on punishment of the convicted lawless. Man's inhumanity to man; many men's drive to have sex with as many women as possible; sex being used as a tool of the powerful as proof of their power over the more vulnerable (e.g., the 'casting couch') have been with us forever.

Feminists getting into froths over allegations, some sounder than others, against male entertainment powerhouses to the point they can't (or won't) separate the individual from the art, will soon find themselves living in a working world and watching TV shows featuring only women. Maybe that's the plan.

Thank the creative gods, Vidia Naipaul's books are permanent. They can't be cancelled. Readers are forced to separate the man from his art. Yet network executives, incapable of creating a sentence, can withhold great works of art from audiences because the artist is accused of sexual misconduct. Instead of punishing audiences for creative talents' alleged immorality, why not consider comprehensive sex education for all youth, to include teaching young girls the power of self-esteem.

If more women understood the source of THEIR power and recognised the casting couch for what it really is (equipment, like bat or ball, used by men to play the power game), they'd know how easy it is to win that game. As was proven in the Garden of Eden, women are better equipped mentally and physically to play the male-female power game. Men are basically clumsy bullies any educated woman ought to see coming a mile away and know how to manipulate to her advantage.

I promise you this: no amount of public scandal will change the ways of the world. The best we can do is accept the world as it is and work it to our advantage.

Therefore, be at peace with God

Whatever you conceive Him to be.

And, whatever your labours and aspirations,

In the noisy confusion of life, Keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,

It is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

The sudden avalanche of sexual harassment allegations in entertainment/news/political workplaces, and the haste with which some employers are terminating long-standing employees come with obvious dangers. First, if breaches were sufficiently clear and deplorable as to require the immediate axe, employers MUST shoulder blame for 'see-and-blind' all these years. But if we're going to have an honest conversation about this, we must recognise the one-sided nature of the public response so far. I'm an unrepentant believer in due process. I'll not abide mob rule, no matter how well it's wrapped up in cloaks of political correctness.

Desiderata, written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, was published in 1948. In 1956, the Reverend Frederick Kates, rector of Saint Paul's Church (Baltimore), included Desiderata in a compilation of devotional materials and added the church's foundation date: "Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore AD 1692." Proving that nothing has changed, including homo not-so-sapiens' insatiable capacity for rushed judgement, this caused a worldwide misunderstanding, still widely subsisting, that Desiderata was written in 1692.

Peace and love.

P.S.: After completing this, I learned of Ian Boyne's "medical emergency". This was very sad news. The latest (good) news is that he seems out of danger and sounds like he's rapidly approaching his old self. We're all looking forward to his return to the saddle.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to