Category: Legitimacy

Dear neighbour

An open letter to my neighbour who crashed my bike parked in an underground parking lot.

Thank you for the opportunity to stay at home and to learn how to true a smashed wheel on my bike last night.
You smashed my rear wheel as you were parking on Thursday, between 5-7pm. I parked my bike in a way that part of my rear wheel was in your space. So, both of us played a role in this accident. I’ve learned to not park my bike behind the lines of my parking spot. So, I’ve gained a lot last night.
I did not appreciate though that you did not come to knock on my door and tell me about the wheel. It’s hard, I know. That’s why I’m writing this letter to you. I’ve parked my bike outside the usual bike room only for 2 hours. Normally, I park it in the storage, which is very hard to access. I was going to go to my writing group and could not go there because of the wobbled wheel.
 I’ve got some bike tools because I like bikes and cycling and fixing them. So, I tried to true the wheel for about an hour, but I gave up. The wobble was too bad and couldn’t be fixed without a proper trueing stand. I’ve learned about my limits last night.
Then, I went jogging before going to bed. I want you to know that it’s o.k. to come and talk. We’re neighbours, after all.



The David and Goliath tour: Gladwell live in Dublin

The unmissable Malcolm Gladwell showcased his book in RDS hall, Dublin, on 1 November 2013. After the show, he signed hundreds of books for his perserverant fans.

David and GoliathI’ve got it. His face was much paler than his photos on the book covers. After 27 minutes of queuing and reading the 1st chapter of his most recent book, I got Malcolm Gladwell’s signature. I waited patiently as hundreds of people in the queue ahead of me got their books signed and photographs taken. When he finished, he said to me: “These two are yours?” and the magical moment passed away.

Cycling back home, I passed by the US embassy where I got my visas for the sabbatical in Portland, Oregon, only 9 months ago. I loved Portland and thought it was a strange coincidence when I met Malcolm personally just next door from a place where my latest life story started. The cycle closed.

Pondering these coincidences, I almost hit a jaywalker. Jaywalking in Ireland is the norm and it illustrates one of the key points of Gladwell’s talk – the principle of legitimacy.

Malcolm lectured about why people obey rules or become radical. Citing from his new book, he argued that people will comply with the system if they believe it’s legitimate. 

“Legitimacy is based on fairness, voice and legitimacy” (p.293) he continues: ”People accept authority when they see that it treats everyone equally, when it is possible to speak up and be heard, and when there are rules in place” that don’t change radically from day to day.

Irish pedestrians must be convinced that the traffic lights system is not legitimate and that one must jaywalk to get where they want to be in time. There must be something seriously wrong with the traffic lights in Dublin if they are disrespected there, but respected in most other countries. In fact, the pedestrian lights have 3 symbols instead of 2 – one more than most countries. There is an orange-coloured light between the red& green lights. The green light is very short an orange flashes for the most of the walking interval. See figure below 

The 2nd principle of legitimacy theory says that people will break the rules if they don’t see the negative consequences of breaking the law as outweighing the benefits of obeying the rules. The enforcement of traffic light law for pedestrians in Dublin is virtually non-existent. Jaywalking will remain legitimate in Dublin until the system becomes more legitimate.


Gladwell, M (2013). David and Goliath. Penguin books
Tyler, T (2006). Why people obey the law. Princeton University Press
Kennedy, D (2008). Deference and crime prevention. Routlege

Sherman, L (2006). Evidence-based crime prevention. Routlege