Alan Bates Vs The Post Office  – What it tells us about our vulnerability

Here we explore how a TV drama can expose such deep feelings and what simple steps we may take to make that less likely to happen.

The ITV Drama Alan Bates Vs The Post Office has gripped me and from what I can see in the media it has gripped the nation.

For those that have not seen it, here is a brief summary. This is a dramatisation of a scandal that has been going on for 20 years which in 2019 was named as possibly Britain’s greatest miscarriage of justice.

Essentially, The Post Office installed a new computer system in all of their post offices to help their sub postmasters. This was called Horizon which was built and run by Fujitsu. Sub postmasters began to get experiences where their close of balance at the end of the night was incorrect and showed them in a deficit. The post office’s contract with them made them responsible for any loss incurred and thus they would be expected and coerced into paying their own money to make up the shortfall. Every time a subpostmaster called the Horizon helpline. They were told that “no one else is having this problem” and thus they thought they were alone. 

One man, one stubborn, detailed focused, determined man named Alan Bates refused to pay the money and refused to sign his accounts off and was thus sacked as a sub postmaster. 

What follows is a story of Alan Bates gradually picking away at details, finding out that more and more people were affected and eventually building a class action against the post office. He and others go on to prove how The Post Office was so sure of its system and so intent on protecting its brand that it lied, withheld information and hung sub postmasters out to dry.

I for one, I have been hooked on watching it and, despite knowing the overall outcome, wanting to see what happens next. 

The human’s behind the stories

What seems to have caught us all is that the drama really effectively showed the human story behind the main cases. It showed the destructive nature of unrestricted power being abused for the corporate benefit. In myself it generated a level of anger on behalf of others that I have not felt for a long time.

Looking at social media it is rife with people calling for the main Post Office protagonists, namely Paula Vennells ( the then CEO of the pOst Office) and Angela van den Bogerd ( Director of Support Services, People & Change Director, and finally Business Improvement Director),  to be put in jail. There are also numerous calls for Paula Vennells to return the CBE she accepted for “services to the post office.”

Not for a long time has a drama, about real events, generated so much feeling and emotion across the nation. 

Why do we feel this way?

Essentially this kind of human story plays into feelings we have all felt before. The genuine feelings of helplessness,hopelessness and powerlessness. It also plays into the narrative many of us feel about the poor little people versus the big abusive rich people. 

There is another element playing into this. I personally have been through a tough 2023 and part of that is due to an institution I should be able to rely on, not maintaining its responsibilities. Throughout this I have remained calm and positive and solutions orientated. Despite this I have clearly been suppressing some level of anger towards the institution in question. This drama has unlocked that for me. In other words I am projecting on to the characters my own feelings. It’s a powerful experience but not wholly positive. Remember, anger leaves us feeling adrenalised and experiencing that powerful emotion half an hour before I go to bed means that I continue to scroll through victim-like memories and situations in my life and try to “put them right” in retrospect. It is a recipe for lost sleep. Lost sleep makes me feel emotional and therefore more likely to engage in the less positive feelings….some of which need airing.

What to do 

We all need to be more honest with our feelings. The challenge is that we often judge ourselves for having certain feelings namely fear, sadness, shame and especially anger. So we have defence mechanisms inside us that try to stop us feeling, or at least , push those feelings away. So a good starting point is to stop judging yourself and allow yourself to feel unconditionally. 

Once you start that process try developing a practice of reviewing and allowing yourself to feel every day. Either through self reflection, meditation or journaling. I personally journal every day but, as revealed about this, I need to be more honest and less judgemental about my anger.

Developing a gradual practice of accepting your own feelings of vulnerability means that feeling in the moment becomes easier and more natural and, eventually, you will almost enjoy being someone who constantly feels stuff and does not mind.

Remember feelings that are ignored or pushed away in the cupboardthat we have for them do not go away. They just wait and get stronger and more powerful until they detect a moment of vulnerability and jump out and overwhelm you. Our natural feedback mechanism is to say to yourselves “that was bad, I won’t let that happen again,” and in doing so we make the cupboard stronger and store the feelings up for longer…same result in the end though and more painful.

Or….you could just feel.

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