Scandals and sandals


“DO LEOPARDS CHANGE THEIR SPOTS?” It did not take long for me to realise that I was not being tested on my zoological knowledge. I was being asked about the “human form” of leopards. The inquirer wanted to know if men who strayed can ever be trusted to remain faithful again. This question is especially pertinent as it is linked with whether the philanderer should be given a second chance.


Last year, the press was kept busy covering one scandal after another. The stories were somehow juicier when it involved men with wealth and power or in high office. We readers seem to draw some perverse pleasure in seeing how the mighty fall.


The question is a difficult one and draws a mix of responses. I sense though that the tide seems to be changing with more saying that leopards do not change their spots.


Is this a sign of realism setting in or does it reflect a growing pessimism of the state of marriages today? Is this pessimism borne out by facts or simply by anecdotal accounts?


Infidelity is stated as the cause in about 10 per cent of divorces of non-Muslim marriages in Singapore (2003 Research Bulletin of Subordinate Courts in Singapore). This figure does not answer the question, as we do not know if this is the result of infidelity in the first instance or because of repeated instances of infidelity (thus proof of the recurring spots of the leopard).


Also, as a Marriage Counsellor, I know some clients do not proceed with their complaint of infidelity because of the lack of admissible evidence or if they want to spare their spouse and family embarrassment.


On the other hand, I have noticed that those who think that leopards can change their spots do so as an expression of their values. A typical response that reflects this view is the advice: “It is always better to stay married and if he says he is sorry, one should always give him another chance.” There are also the occasional stories of lives that have been transformed.


But these accounts are few and far between. So can we conclude that these spots are difficult to eradicate and thus likely to recur?


How did I answer my inquirer? I told the truth, which was that I cannot tell for sure if a philanderer will mend his ways.


Let me quickly add that the same is true if the philanderer is a woman. What I can say is that there are things one can do to ensure that the offense is less likely to be repeated.


This brings me to sandals. This footwear is a lowly item in a person’s apparel and seldom gets attention. However it is an important item, humble as it is.


I believe that there is a link between pride and repeated infidelity. I find that those who are more self-confident they will not succumb to this folly often regret making this assumption. We are all at risk of falling into this temptation.


I have seen couples who are doing well and doing poorly in their relationship experiencing this crisis. So it is not something that affects only troubled marriages.


I have seen husbands who sincerely declare that they love their wives and yet have a fling with their secretaries. I have also seen couples where the wives are attractive and devoted to their husbands and yet their husbands have gone astray.


The same is true too for those who have fallen and then quickly say that they have learnt their lesson as they witness the hurt inflicted by their actions. Those who tend to fall again are usually those who refuse any help and resist any attempt at making themselves more accountable to others. They feel that they can do it with their own will power.


Does this mean that all men are leopards and it is just that some have spots that have not yet emerged or have been discovered?


I do not believe that all men are philanderers and I am sure we each know of a few good men. But I think that we have to acknowledge that the numbers grow fewer and fewer. The realisation that every person is susceptible can be a reminder that we should always be on our guard.


The humble sandals can serve as a reminder that we should not be too self-assured or self-reliant. Perhaps then we can keep scandals at bay.



By Benny Bong