What makes words work?

A few weeks ago we all went into gossip overdrive when one very good looking celebrity starlet did the unthinkable: Kristen Stewart broke the heart of sexy co-star Robert Pattinson. The world seemed to stop for a second as everyone took in how the beautiful Kristen had cheated on the even more beautiful R-Patts with a Director who was far too old for her, anyway (most people conveniently left out the part that the Director was also married. And had children).

We were all shattered by the news that this seemingly perfect couple were on the verge of Splitsville (presumably with the exception of the Twilight producers, who were probably getting all Tom Cruise on their couches about the next movie release). Both Kristen and Rupert released statements apologising to their loved ones and asked for forgiveness, letting everyone know how aware they were that they had done the wrong thing.

One thing that struck me as odd, though, was the reaction of several of my media savvy friends. All of them agreed that, while Kristen’s written statement seemed sincere, Rupert’s didn’t sound nearly as genuine an apology. Which got me to thinking: what makes an apology more convincing? What makes certain words work?

THE BREAKDOWN

Let’s take a look at Kristen’s apology first:

“I’m deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I’ve caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected. This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I’m so sorry.”

Techniques that I believe give this statement sincerity include:

  • Repetition: Towards the end of the apology, Kristen states “I love him, I love him.” Repetition is a very easy tool to use, but it works. By delivering this message twice, Kristen has made it clear that this isn’t just a throwaway line, that this love is very real to her.
  • Personalisation: Kristen includes the name of her partner, Robert, in the statement. Not only that, she uses a nickname, a term of endearment. This indicates not only how close they are/were, but also drives home the fact that he is the important one in all of this. She’s speaking of him, she’s worried about him – it’s not a statement released that’s all about her.
  • Trivialisation: While she doesn’t really trivialise the affair, Kristen does seem to downsize it, referring to it as a “momentary indiscretion”. This makes it quite clear that, whatever it was, it was short-lived and it presumably won’t happen again.

Now let’s take a look at Rupert’s statement:

“I am utterly distraught about the pain I have caused my family. My beautiful wife and heavenly children are all I have in this world. I love them with all my heart. I am praying that we can get through this together.”

Rupert has a very different style of writing to Kristen (possibly due to his age and experience). Having said that, I think a few points that make this apology a little less sincere include:

  • False religious overtones: Rupert refers to his “heavenly” children and is “praying” his family can get through this event. Yet the event in question is one where he committed adultery, a biblical sin. His religious references therefore seem to be lacking in sincerity, as his beliefs clearly don’t hold all that strong.
  • Sense of settlement: By saying his wife and children are all he has in the world, it implies that perhaps before the affair was discovered he had them – and a hot Twilight star. Now he just has them. Different phrasing, perhaps saying they are the most important things in the world to him, would make him seem like he values them above society. Here it looks like everyone hates him and they’re all he has left. Way to make a family feel wanted.
  • Selfish overtones: The statement starts by saying Rupert is “distraught” about the incident, focusing on his feelings. At the end he then prays that “we can get through this together.” In both situations, the focus is on himself as well as his family, as opposed to putting their wellbeing in front of his own, making him seem a little more worried about he’ll pull through the situation as opposed to them.

Now, I’m not saying I think Rupert is any less apologetic for his actions than Kristen. Nor am I trying to say that I think Kristen loves R-Patts more than Rupert loves his wife and children. I just think it’s interesting how one apology can seem so different to the other – and how some words can just work more efficiently.

What do you think? Do you find their statements to be of varying apologetic degree?

Photos: Eva Rinaldi, Wikipedia

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