I read with interest today that Arsene Wenger, the manager of Arsenal Football (soccer) Club has demanded an apology from UEFA following the sending off of one of the Arsenal player, Robin Van Persie, when the match (at 1-1) was in the balance. You can read about it here.

Apologies are interesting things. Just what is it about not apologising that gets to us? How is it so many of us demand an apology and is it worth it in the first place?

According to the excellent blog: Psyblog a Dutch psychologist, David De Cremer, carried out research in 2010, as he was somewhat dubious of the virtues of the apology and wondered if receiving one was actually worthwhile. To cut to the chase (sorry – there you go, I’m apologising, as I’m a bit short of time!) the expectation of receiving a valued or meaningful apology (quantified as a number out of 7) was higher than the quantified number given of actually receiving one (also out of 7). And it wasn’t that close either. The expectation of receiving a valued apology was quantified at 5.3 whereas actually receiving one was a lowly 3.5.

Merely receiving a fabricated, not-meant, apology serves little purpose and is worse than no apology at all. At least, that’s what observers witnessing the apology directed at someone else report. (Research carried out by Risen and Gilovich 2007). Amazingly, even if others perceive that the apology isn’t worth the apology paper its written on, the offended person will much more readily believe the apology than the observers. I suspect that this is to do with the Three Universal Goals: We want to belong (affiliation), be right (accuracy) and to stay the same (positive self-concept). These universal goals seem to out-weigh other factors. Simply put, being right and maintaining the same view of ourselves is all that matters so whatever apology comes our way doesn’t seem to matter: it’s just about getting one.

Conflict arises though, as others see the ‘injustice’ of the situation. They want the perpetrator to not only say but to mean it. We, on the other hand, seem to just want an apology; however it comes. Schools are places where, “Say sorry to, [insert name]” is heard every day in the playground. Teachers expect children to say sorry. My experience tells me that many children either have little idea what they’re apologising for or if they realise what they did they aren’t really sorry anyway! Have you ever heard, “He hit me first!” with the inference, “He deserved it!”? I know that I have. Fortunately, for the victim of the playground misdemeanour, merely hearing those words, “Sorry” seems to do the trick. It’s a good job.

I wonder, referring to the famous song by Elton John, perhaps ‘Sorry’ isn’t the hardest word. Meaning it though is an altogether different thing.

I can hear it now: Arsene Wenger receives from UEFA a sincerely felt apology for the incorrect sending off of Robin Van Persie. The flying pigs are back again…