December 20th, 2012

Sports: Swim teachers 'drowning' in schools

RECENTLY, New Straits Times reader Hussaini Abdul Karim suggested that primary schools teach pupils to swim and that secondary school students should learn life-saving techniques.

I agree with his suggestion. But looking at the kind of teachers that we have, I have doubts.

How many teachers can save themselves in the deeper half of a swimming pool or a slow-flowing river, not to mention in times of floods with fast-flowing water.

Swimming is seen in cities and towns with public pools.

Swimming competitions are reserved for those few lucky ones whose parents are members of clubs with swimming amenities or those in sports schools.

The few schools that have swimming pools hardly conduct any swimming lessons as there is no one to conduct them.

It would be a good idea to have a survey to determine the number of teachers nationwide who were given the title of "pengerusi teknik" of aquatics who are capable enough to swim from one end of the pool to the other.

How can a teacher who has never been a swimmer be appointed to such a post?

It is not surprising to know that teachers who detest sports and games become co-curriculum senior assistants, headmasters, senior assistants and such.

The 1Murid, 1Sukan policy has yet to produce any result.

Unless the Education Ministry is serious about making changes, from the process of teacher recruitment, teacher training and the appointment of candidates to designations in schools, and district and state departments, the situation will remain the same.

The techniques and skills in most sports or games are limited to a few teachers who are interested in sports.

Gone are the days where teachers outnumbered the rest when it came to the selection of sportsmen or sportswomen to represent the country.

Chau Tah Soou, Segamat, Johor | New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 19 December 2012

Hallmark of tertiary institutions

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: A commitment to honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility

INTEGRITY is a central, indispensable and defining hallmark of effective higher education institutions.

An institution demonstrates integrity through the manner in which it specifies its goals, selects and retains its faculty, admits students, establishes curricula, determines programmes of research, pursues its fields of service, demonstrates sensitivity to equity and diversity issues, allocates its resources, serves public interest and provides for the success of students (Characteristics Of Excellence In Higher Education published by Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2002).

Higher education and society grow when colleges have standards of integrity that provide the foundation for a vibrant academic life, promote scientific progress and prepare students as responsible citizens.

Students show their respect by being punctual for class and contributing to discussions

Many institutions, however, have neither defined academic integrity nor expressly committed to it. Others explain academic integrity merely by listing behaviours that are prohibited rather than by identifying values and behaviours to be promoted.

Academic integrity is a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility (The Fundamental Values Of Academic Integrity published by Centre for Academic Integrity, 1999).

Quest International University Perak has identified the following core values for its staff and students: professionalism, innovation, quality, commitment, teamwork and caring. Professionalism is elaborated as "we are professionals who conduct ourselves with honesty, integrity and are accountable for our actions".

In institutions of higher learning, students, faculty, administrators and all the other stakeholders have to play their roles in promoting academic integrity on campus. The fundamental values of integrity can be described as follows:

Honesty is the basis of all activities conducted in tertiary institutions such as teaching, learning, research and service.

It is also a prerequisite for developing an environment of trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.

Dishonest behaviours such as lying, cheating, theft, plagiarism and fraud diminish the worth of academic degrees and endanger the human rights and welfare of society.

James Campbell in his column in Learning Curve (May 13, 2012) wrote: "Teachers trust in their students and their institutional leadership, and the trust of students in their teachers is critical if innovation, reform and creativity and learning culture are to take root. Trust and what hampers it is a crucial issue for educators."

The institutions have to set clear guidelines and criteria for assessment of students' work and examinations to promote trust.

The institutions need consistency in their academic standards. Researchers should be given confidence that their ideas and work will not be stolen and teachers should be made to believe that their efforts will be duly recognised.

Both students and staff members must be given a fair treatment by their colleagues and administration.

Fairness in evaluation is essential to develop trust and high standards of achievement.

There is no excuse to justify favours or otherwise.

Mutual respect is an emblem of an institution of higher learning. Students, teachers and administrators must respect each other. Differences in opinions cannot be made a reason to show disrespect to anyone. It is a human virtue and should not be perceived as disobedience.

Students show their respect by being punctual for class, being attentive, completing their assignments on time, contributing to discussions and actively participating in the learning activities.

Teachers show their respect by listening to students attentively, appreciating their ideas and work, giving honest and prompt feedback, recognising them as individuals and helping them to achieve their goals.

Safeguarding academic integrity is the responsibility of all -- each student, faculty member and administrator.

In practical terms, it means upholding integrity at the individual level, reporting any misconduct without favour and fear and taking action against wrongdoing.

Members of an academic community should not be involved in any questionable activity and must not tolerate or ignore dishonesty.

The Centre of Academic Integrity at Duke University in the United States recommended that an academic institution should:

1. Have clear academic integrity statements, policies and procedures that are consistently implemented.

2. Inform and educate the campus community regarding academic integrity policies and procedures.

3. Promulgate and rigorously practise these policies and procedures from the top down, and provide support to those who uphold them.

4. Have a clear, accessible and equitable system to adjudicate suspected violations of policy.

5. Develop programmes to promote academic integrity among all segments of the community.

These initiatives should go beyond repudiation of academic dishonesty and include discussions about the importance of academic integrity and its connection to broader ethical issues.

6. Be alert to trends in higher education and technology affecting academic integrity on campus.

7. Regularly assess the effectiveness of its policies and procedures and take steps to improve them.

Alam Sher Malik  New Straits Times Online Learning Curve 16 December 2012

'Specialisation is for insects'

GIVE DUE: The dilemma of being Jack of all trades, master of none

THE aphorism, "jack of all trades, master of none", has a negative connotation. It refers to one who is competent in many areas but does not excel in one.

Many, however, will testify that Jack has been a saviour in critical situations when ideas and feedback are needed to project a holistic picture of a venture.

Jack is skilful in bringing ideas into fruition. He is a master of integration as he knows more than enough in theory and practice to amalgamate disciplines and knowledge into a whole.

It is right, therefore, that you credit him for his many learned trades and skills.

Rather than referring to Jack as "master of none", he should be acknowledged as an exceptional individual whose expertise and knowledge span a significant number of subjects.

He should be recognised as a polymath.

Science fiction writer Robert Anson Heinlein, who was among the most influential and controversial authors of the genre in his time, had this to say about specialisation: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, programme a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialisation is for insects."

In academia, a specialist wants to be in a field where his opinion is sought.

Specialisation creeps in whenever an academic submits an application for promotion, especially for professorship.

He has to prove his specialisation in the discipline associated with the professorship title. Being a Jack of all trades will not help him get the coveted post.

Many people put focus on a single area to be more marketable. Without doubt, specialists will always be in demand in any industry.

Unlike the corporate world where generalists will take over the upper positions of the hierarchy, in academia, you need to be a specialist as you rise through the ranks. In all probability, Jack may regret his all-round contribution to many fields through research, opinions, writings and organising students' and employees' activities.

It may be too late for him to specialise as his application for professorship comes late in his academic career. Besides, he has many fields to choose from.

Academics who are generalists are useful when there are classes left unattended by those running to greener pastures or on sabbatical and replacements are hard to come by.

Many gain knowledge in several fields before entering academia. Their proactive initiative stems from the need to be well-prepared in areas that are indirectly related to their disciplines. Their all-round learning allows them to be at ease from start to finish in projects.

A jack of all trades implies you do not have the expertise of specialisation required of a professorship.

The strong contributions by generalists should be considered for a reward alongside specialists. And the best honour is a promotion which denotes recognition.

Specialists say that the days of generalists are long gone or never existed; generalists are amateurs, specialists survive and thrive.

Have the critics of generalists not heard of Zhang Heng, Omar Khayyam, Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Rabindranath Tagore?

While generalists are not on the same level as polymaths, being Jack has worked well for many. Their flexibility and willingness to learn is an asset.

They make valuable team members because they know more than a fair bit about many fields.

Curiosity gets the better of generalists. Their interests in something new may not be skin-deep.

They love learning new things. Though they may not like all of the disciplines, nevertheless, they enjoy the process of learning.

Many subjects interest them so they have trouble concentrating on one. The skills garnered over the years help to solve many problems.

Generalists are, in many ways, in control of their destiny. They are independent when seeking answers. They seldom rely on others for solutions. They follow the adage of doing it themselves if they want something done right.

Even if they are constrained by time and cost, they know a job can be done.

Their curiosity leads them from one subject to another in search of the best answers. Unlike generalists, specialists enjoy trying to perfect their skills.

Many generalists have a primary passion in which they spend the most energy practising and perfecting.

Perhaps they are better off striking a balance between being a generalist and a specialist.

Their secondary knowledge may help their primary work. They are valuable resource people. There is no reason for generalists to feel inferior.

Arzmi Yaacob New Straits Times Online Learning Curve 16 December 2012

Wake up and get some sleep!

SHUT-EYE: Research and common sense support our observations on the consequences of lack of sleep

ONE of the casualties of our increasingly busy lives is sleep. Many people now find it hard to get to sleep and the growing number of those who work longer or overnight hours is compounding the issue.

The easy accessibility of entertainment and distractions is also leading to a lack of sleep for many individuals.

Some people seem to be able to operate on little sleep but, on the whole, the negative effects of sleep deprivation for the overwhelming majority of us are what many experience.

During my current trip to Malaysia, I had an overnight flight and spent a large part of the next day travelling to reach my destination due to the gap in flight schedules and so forth.

So I had little sleep during my travel. I picked up an hour of sleep on the plane and I confess I fell asleep in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on transit.

The net result was a feeling of tiredness that lasted for a few days and I caught a small cold as well which lasted for 48 hours.

Research tells us that lack of sleep does have health impacts. It can increase our susceptibility to infections such as colds and can have effects on mood swings and a whole array of other potentially harmful consequences.

With regard to crankiness and catching colds, my little story certainly does bear this out.

Many of us now are increasingly tired and, due to this, lose concentration on the simplest of tasks. Have any of my readers ever been really tired at the wheel of a car? Have you ever not seen a red light or been alert enough to common signals and said to yourself, "I need more sleep", "I am not paying attention" and finally, "that was a close shave!"

I can confess on the odd occasion I have experienced this and on many of those instances I knew that tiredness was the core culprit.

Lack of sleep is not simply uncomfortable. It can have significant health implications.

There is some evidence that lack of sleep in children can cause problems in health, behaviour and development. This is a significant concern in some schools. If students turn up to class tired and lethargic, moody or ill, lack of sleep may be related.

It is important for educators to check in on this matter since it may inform or be the root cause of some problems that we face in the classroom.

There is a lot of research and information available online on this issue.

However, I found an interesting discussion of the subject on the Harvard Business Review Blog.

In discussing the problem of lack of sleep, Tony Schwartz points out that: "So why is sleep one of the first things we're willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives keep rising?

"We continue to live by a remarkably durable myth: sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity. In reality, the research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, our mood, our cognitive capacity and our productivity (see Tony Schwartz, Sleep Is More Important Than Food, March 3, 2011,"

So it appears that research and common sense support our personal observations on the consequences of lack of sleep on our health, our well-being and our capacities to concentrate.

Lack of sleep is a concern for educators, workers and students alike.

The consequences of lack of sleep are potentially quite damaging and it is one of those issues that we need to take more seriously -- in terms of our individual lives but also -- as a deeper and significant issue for the effective functioning of students and employees in educational, industrial and business organisations alike.

Interestingly in Schwartz's blog post, he also provides some practical tips on how we as individuals can address the challenge.

So I shall end this piece of writing quoting his three tips and I hope these may be of some use to those of my readers who also realise that they are missing their sleep. Schwartz writes:

l Go to bed earlier -- and at a set time. Sounds obvious right?

The problem is there is no alternative.

You are already waking up at the latest possible time you think is acceptable. If you do not ritualise a specific bedtime, you'll end up finding ways to stay up later, just the way you do now.

l Start winding down at least 45 minutes before you turn out the light. You will not fall asleep if you are all wound up from answering email, or doing other work.

Create a routine around drinking a cup of herbal tea, or listening to music that helps you relax, or reading a dull book.

l Write down what is on your mind -- especially unfinished to-do's and unresolved issues -- just before you go to bed.

If you leave items in your working memory, they will make it harder to fall asleep, and you'll end up ruminating about them if you should wake up during the night.

Finally, for those of you who are reading this late in the evening -- good night!

James Campbell New Straits Times Online Learning Curve 16 December 2012

Beware of burnout

WHEN someone you love falls sick, there are typically two reactions — take charge of the situation and bring some sort of order to the household. Or hand the situation over to someone so that they can organise the resources, and family.

It is usually in such instances that the primary caregiver emerges. Sometimes it is the most unlikely person in the family, the quietest or the most distant. Typically, however, it is the person who is most dependable and organised.

Being a caregiver can be a novel experience for some. As the main caregiver, you have control and influence over other people’s time and schedule, particularly of the one who is in your care. Some see this as a relished position.

Suddenly people listen to what you have to say. They refer and defer to your decisions. You’ll find that people arrange or re-arrange their schedules based on your advice. Others, however, may take on this role as a heavy mantle of responsibility.

Whatever the details, if the situation is dire, chaos threatens the once serene setting of your home and routine. More often than not, a caregiver may find himself or herself in this role for many years with recurrent hospital admissions, possible surgeries and long-term treatments in addition to home nursing and care.

When people visit the person in your care, they often only ask about the patient. Most caregivers are rarely asked how they are doing. Even if they were, the automatic response would be, “I am fine, thank you,” said with a bright, false smile.

Unless a person has been a caregiver, they would find it hard to empathise, let alone understand your pain and frustrations. Besides, it would be awkward for the caregiver to reveal every painful detail, for example, of putting up with difficult behaviour, not having a moment to themselves, being taken for granted and blamed, just to name some.

Conversely, the “I’m fine, thank you” mentality is so ingrained in many caregivers that they forget to ask themselves how they are doing, until exhaustion gets the better of them.

In my previous articles, I kept saying don’t be shy to ask for help. This is easier said than done. Telling a caregiver “if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be well enough to take care of the person in your charge” is as unhelpful as it is true.

So how can you help the caregiver? How can they help themselves?

In the long run, exhaustion will set in and you may just suffer from burnout.

Common signs of burnout are:

• Tiredness. You don’t sleep well because you are worried about the person in your charge. This often leads to feeling that you’re perpetually unwell. Your sniffles can’t seem to go away. You think it’s a cold but you know it’s not. It is an indication that your immune system is not well because stress can wreak havoc on your health.
• Unusual hunger. You start developing abnormal eating patterns and cravings, usually for something sweet.
• Isolation. You don’t feel like socialising or interacting with people, not even your family and close friends. This could be a sign that what you’re doing is draining you.
• Loss of interest. When you no longer find your hobbies as well as people and things around you interesting, you probably need a break from being a caregiver.
• Resentment. You start to have negative or violent thoughts about the person in your care or even towards yourself, followed by feelings of guilt for even thinking them. You should immediately seek help if you feel this way.

The thing now is to learn how to do so. Next, if you have been a caregiver for many years, you need to occasionally take a step back and see if you are suffering from burnout. The trick is to find out what works best for you to make you feel good.

If you need a reprieve, even if only for a few hours a day, find out if there is a place you could send your loved one to. Community and support groups can help you in such instances.

The key here is to be able to honestly identify your needs and the fact that you can’t do it all alone. In truth, no one who really cares about you expects you to. Once you’ve figured this out, you must remember to ask for it.

Juneita Johari NST Sunday Life and Times 16 December 2012

Smart Parenting: Family adventures

HOW has your year-end holiday been so far? I hope you and your family have done some fun activities together. I also hope that you are winning the battle against the electronic invasions in your home. Yes, school holidays can either be the best of times or the worst of nightmares depending on how we fill time.

Besides agreeing on some basic schedules for the holidays, parents also need to proactively plan for some quality time with the kids.

There are plenty of options especially if you enjoy the outdoors. Forget about the heat, instead focus on how much fun you can have in the sun. Here are several activities that my family and I have enjoyed together.


Just a few days ago we decided to revisit this place after eight years. After checking the Internet to find out its current situation, we were excited at the prospect of cycling around the wetlands and enjoying the fantastic scenery. After an hour’s drive from the city centre, we reached our destination by about lunch time. There were a lot of people, but it wasn’t over-crowded.

After a quick but delicious lunch, we grabbed our bikes. The rental was unbelievably cheap — RM5 per bike for two hours! So there we were, ready and eager to explore. The place had matured as compared with our first visit. The trees have grown nicely to provide shade. We had one destination in mind, the Malay House, located two kilometres away but no one was complaining. The dirt road coupled with shady trees provided the perfect setting for a great family outing.


If cycling is not your thing, then you can try picnicking by the sea. There are plenty of scenic spots around the country where you can lay the mat and enjoy food with the family. Among the popular ones for KL city folk are the Bagan Lalang beach with its perfect condition for kite flying, or Port Dickson for its convenience and beauty. Up north we have Pantai Teluk Senangin (Perak) and Batu Ferringhi (Penang), while those in the east coast can have a blast at Tanjung Jara (Terengganu), Bisikan Bayu (Kelantan) or Cherating (Pahang).

Venture out and look for spots that are a bit secluded. I smile to myself when I recall the great drive we’ve had along the Tanjung Jara beach. It was breezy and the turquoise blue sea was out of this world. Neither words nor pictures can adequately describe our feelings when we discovered this gem.


This is best done with friends and families. Plan ahead, choose a safe, nice location out of several options such as FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia), Janda Baik, Hulu Langat and Kanching Falls. All these great waterfalls or river streams are easily accessible and within an hour’s drive from the city. Collect some money from each family and buy basic barbecue needs. Assign the tasks properly so that the day is filled with fun activities for kids and adults.

There’s nothing like the aroma of grilled chicken, lamb and beef. It also provides the perfect time for your group of parents from schools or neighbourhood to catch up with one another while the kids have fun with their friends.


Besides dirt roads, beaches and waterfalls, parents can also explore the many historical sites around the country. When was the last time you climbed the steep steps of St. John’s Fort in Malacca? Have you been awed by the history of Istana Lama Seri Menanti in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan? Have you explored beyond the regular sites in Penang? What about Gua Niah (Sarawak), Makam Mahsuri (Langkawi) or Kuala Pak Amat (Kota Baru)?

Fort Cornwallis, Penang
When Francis Light built the fort in George Town, Penang, his intention was to use it to defend the island from pirates and the state of Kedah. This largest standing fort in the country, however, had never seen a day of battle in its long history and has retained an administrative function until it was gazetted as an ancient monument and historic site. 
Courtesy of Tourism Malaysia

These places provide valuable lessons in history that no textbooks can ever offer. There’s no other more effective way to go back in time than to look, touch and even feel the texture of history at any of these historical sites. If the kids protest, you can quote the lyrics of Men In Black’s theme song, “But to understand the future, we have to go back in time.” That would be utterly cool!

There are only two weekends left before the new school year starts. Congratulate yourself if you are already smiling, looking at the priceless photos taken during your fun trip in the sun. Otherwise, it’s the perfect time to pack your gear and start exploring the great outdoors. Because it is not the destination but the journey that counts.

 Zaid Mohamad New Straits Times Sunday Life and Times 16 December 2012

Family: A heady alchemy

The alchemy of power, a man and the other woman, discovers Amanda Suriya Ariffin, goes beyond mere scandal and gossip fodder

POWER has been termed an aphrodisiac, if we are to paraphrase the statesman Henry Kissinger. And if the tableau of history is any evidence, that point remains very much relevant decades after the quip was made famous in 1973.

The late Princess Diana revealed ‘there are three of us in this marriage’.

When the late Princess of Wales, Diana, fearlessly went on public record with the now-infamous quip that “There are three of us in this marriage”, and that it was getting a little crowded, she was added to a long line of The Wronged Wife.

However, as her then-husband was a nation’s future monarch and rightful heir to the throne, there were mitigating circumstances surrounding the expectation that he should “leave office”, as it were.

If we look at other powerful men in public office, however — and more pointedly, men who were elected into said positions of power — their downfall at the hands of The Other Woman ranks right up there with public humiliation by any other means.

Petraeus quit as CIA director over extramarital affair.

The ingrained public morality decrying adultery aside, the recent scandal in which General Davis Petraeus was at the centre of the vortex, brought to mind the heady alchemy of power, men and its overwhelming allure to certain women of a certain disposition.

Broadwell was Petraeus’ mistress.

Like fish being baited and hooked, women who seemingly consciously choose to be with only powerful men — who are already married — make Paula Broadwell look positively tame.

Nala (not her real name), a divorcee of mixed Asian lineage and who has just turned 50, admits freely that she prefers to be a mistress of powerful, rich men. She wouldn’t mind being married, she says, if only the men would ask her to marry them.

“But for now,” she confesses, “I’m quite happy where I am. He gives me money. When I don’t see him, I can go out and do my own thing, and he calls me every day — sometimes lots of times in a day.”

The “he” in question is in his mid-50s, a director in a conglomerate who resides in a million-ringgit bungalow in a pristine, manicured gated suburb with his wife of 16 years and two teenage children.

Nala has been his mistress for the past eight years since the day they were introduced to one another, over drinks with mutual friends, at a shiny bar in a five-star hotel in the Golden Triangle. The routine since then is almost alarmingly similar to the routine of married life in its unchanging regularity.

They meet on Wednesday nights (when she prepares a lavish dinner for him, followed by an evening of other corporeal delights) and then on Saturday and Sunday mornings in the two-bedroom apartment she inherited from a former lover. How much time does he spend there? “Anywhere between three to five hours,” she says.

Nala does not strike me as a conniving, calculatingly cold femme fatale with absolutely no moral radar. She was married when she was just 26, but a daughter and three years later, she found herself divorced. She is tall and willowy, with long legs and a ready laugh.

She is also a serial mistress with an obvious penchant for powerful men. How can I be certain it is not just a fluke attributed to kismet, destiny and cosmic forces? Because she has been the mistress of eight men — all married — since her divorce.

From directors to entrepreneurs — some of foreign nationality who have set up businesses here — to a foreign statesman and a diplomat, Nala has exceeded what allowances can be made that this behaviour is anything but a pattern.

A love litany of eight consecutive men of the same stripe makes a pattern, does it not?

“He tells me his wife never cooks for him, that she’s always busy with the kids. He likes the attention I give him,” she says, with a hint of an undertone that sounds very close to gloating. “And he tells me he loves me.”

That love takes the form of texts, calls, luxurious gifts and wads of cash when he leaves her boudoir. The wads of cash she spends on incredibly-impractical lingerie, which she shows me with some unadulterated pleasure. There is little sign of remorse or regret in her attractive features, and I wonder if it is like this with all mistresses.

But I shush my mental wanderlust and try to suppress my judgment, when she reveals that she is a fun person, open to spontaneous jaunts of hedonism, and this is a constant refrain she hears from her lovers.

Could this have anything to do with the fact that her daughter is being raised by relatives in another state and so Nala seemingly resembles the closest thing to a single woman in the truest definition? She demurs to comment on this.

With unsettling honesty, she says: “I’m glad I don’t have to entertain or take care of his relatives, parents or children. I just have to entertain and take care of him. He takes care of me, too. He’s not here all the time, but I have my friends, so that’s fine.”

But does she not care about his children or family members?

“I buy gifts for them when we go for holidays together, and sometimes I will choose the gift for the wife, too. Of course, he has to tell them that they are from him, and not from me.”


The burning question then is this: Is there a particular condition or predisposition with women such as Nala?

Sherman Ng of The Peace Clinic, ( where its therapists deal with a multitude of issues including stress, other psychological challenges as well as offering programmes that offer healing from within, helps me answer this.

“Women who are prone to affairs have an underlying lack of self-worth and self-esteem,” he explains. “They have difficulty loving and appreciating themselves”.

The result? “They find it challenging to properly cultivate family, social and romantic relationships.”

In an affair, says Ng, the relationship satisfies all three dimensions making it a convenient way to blend it all together to fulfil what is clearly missing in their emotional and psychological psyche.

Is it a cover for, or a projection of, underlying causes? Interestingly, Ng adds: “Yes, the underlying cause is generally an upbringing and conditioning which does not support their self-worth. Parents who unconsciously and constantly compare them to others, withhold love or degrade them in public as a form of punishment, would severely impact their ability to appreciate and love themselves.”  

What generally happens is that when they do not appreciate themselves, he explains, they will seek out ways to compensate this deficiency externally which inevitably leads to addictive behaviour patterns like shopping, eating, sex and affairs.  

“In most cases, it starts with something innocent to soothe the craving.  When it does not satisfy anymore,” he emphasises, “it will  lead to another and another and before long, it becomes an unconscious habitual behaviour. This is the dynamic of how addictions begin and develops.”

What of the powerful man who may only feel truly powerful when he has attracted another woman outside of his committed relationship?

Ng answers evenly: “The need for power is also born from the condition of also having a lack of self-worth.  Some powerful men become powerful because they’re constantly working to satisfy the addictive cravings of the inflating ego’s need.”

Power is how they perceive and measure their worth, he says, and sometimes you see how the inherent unhappiness in both the characters of the men and women can so easily seek each other out for temporary relief and solace.

But the serial mistress, Ng adds, is a person who is addicted to a particular way of thinking, feeling and behaving.  She has really lost control of those faculties to make self-nurturing decisions.

Most decisions are mainly to serve the addiction and also what they perceive is necessary to survive, he says. “It’s like getting on a bus thinking it is a good ride and then finding out that it is going the wrong direction but they can’t seem to get off it. When they finally find a way to get off (or thrown off)”, says Ng, “they continue to find another inappropriate bus to get on... and hence the cycle.”

At Ng’s apt analogy involving buses, I think about transplanting a terrible old joke involving women being compared to bicycles and how many may have had a ride on them, but remember quickly, with many situations, that there’s never supply without demand.

Power may be an aphrodisiac as well as a projection of unfulfilled needs or that of an unsatiated ego, but it is also akin to a loose cannon in an already murky emotional ecosystem fraught with uncontrollable desires.

Should the Mayan prediction come true this Dec 21, it would be quite awful to have your world - and public reputation —  end on a scandalous note of being The Other Woman, and have it overshadow all other sterling achievements.

In only that respect, General, you have my sympathies.

Amanda Suriya Ariffin New Straits Times Sunday Life and Times 16 December 2012