The former England goalkeeper Rob Green was on the TV last night as a pundit on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football show.
He seemed like a good guy, and talked interestingly and thoughtfully about his own playing career, and about his successors as England goalie, their techniques, strengths and weaknesses.
The presenter Dave Jones also asked him a match between England and USA at the World Cup in 2010 where Rob had made a mistake and let an easy shot go in.
What he said was revealing, and also sad, about making mistakes. About regret, how other people can be judgmental and the effect it can have on your sense of who you are.
He said the team manager, Fabio Capello, basically gave him the cold shoulder, as if he had ceased to exist. The manager only talked to him to tell him he wouldn’t be playing in the team again.
He also said that the press got in touch with his family, went to his flat (even though, as he said, that seemed stupid because clearly he was away at the World Cup in South Africa). It was like he had done some horrific crime, not made a mistake in a match.
It sounded like he felt really alone, that everyone wanted to tell him what a terrible goalie he was. For some people, it seemed like his mistake had a moral dimension, like he was a bad person.
They thought that he had let the team, the country down (whatever that means), and they wanted him to know.
I'm sure it must have seemed like the end of the world for Rob at the time, and boy did people make him feel like it was.
Obviously everybody makes mistakes but, fortunately, most of us aren’t making them, as Rob said, “in front of two or three billion people”. But there was something familiar to many people in that sinking feeling of having done something wrong, letting people down.
That feeling of shame can be a very corrosive emotion. But I've noticed with people in therapy that when they speak about the shameful thing for the first time, there is a sense of relief, of having unburdened.
It sounded like Rob had to go on quite a journey to come to terms with his mistake and how other people made him feel about it.
And, more important that that, how a person feels about themself.
The things we are ashamed of are no fun to talk about. But perhaps that's better than just carrying them around for the rest of our life.