Why Aesop Lake is Relevant Now
by Sarah Ward
When is the right time for a young adult novel about bullying, harassment and being an ally? In our current political climate, our leaders act like bullies, intimidating others, and dismissing those without power, teaching our youngest generation of adults that the only way to get things done is to use force and coercion.
So, when it is the right time? That time is now.
We have an opportunity to offer stories of ally-ship, confronting the bullies, and standing up in unity. Aesop Lake is such a novel. Leda Keogh, the 17-year-old protagonist must face the challenge of doing the right thing after witnessing a hate crime against a gay couple. She can protect her boyfriend and her family, or face the forces that control her, and help bring justice to a terrible situation. All too often we are faced with challenges without the guidance and support of others who can help us navigate to a positive outcome.
In Aesop Lake I’ve used three of Aesop’s Fables to frame the story. These fables are simple messages that bring us back to core values about being human, might doesn’t make right, gentleness can be more persuasive than force, and there is strength in unity. Without standing on moral high ground, the characters in Aesop Lake must confront each other with words, and actions, and find the strength within to change the future.
Even if you don’t write novels, there are many ways that we can raise our kids to be able to stand up for others and help young adults learn to speak up and be allies to their peers.
Here are Five Ways to Help Young Adults be Allies in the Face of Confrontation
1. Talk about why it’s important to be an ally and what that means. Being an ally means recognizing oppression broadly and standing in solidarity with anyone who experiences oppression—whether or not the ally also belongs to a targeted group. Here is a great list from tolerance.org
- Do listen and ask how you can help / Don’t expect another person to educate you about their identity.
- Do accept criticism thoughtfully / Don’t broadcast your qualifications for being an ally.
- Do speak up when you hear biased language / Don’t apologize for the actions of your identity group.
- Do seek support from experienced allies within your identity group / Don’t expect credit for being an ally.
- Do acknowledge intersectionality / Don’t selectively support one group over another.
2. Demonstrate how to stand up for others, if you don’t know yourself, learn:
- Recognize the feeling in your gut when something is not okay. When your stomach tightens up, your pulse quickens, you can hear the tone shift in a conversation, where someone is trying to exert power over another, verbally or emotionally.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Who else is around? What is your location? If you decide to act, can you reasonably assure your safety and that of the other person?
- Take a deep breath, and center yourself. Finding the courage to step out of your comfort zone and speak up requires some confidence. Many parents actually tell their children to mind their own business, don’t get involved if someone else is causing a problem. As a parent, a social worker and a youth group leader, I’ve talked with many teens who want to do the right thing, but don’t feel well equipped to even try.
- Speak clearly and directly to the person being threatened. Make eye contact with them. Ask them, “Are you okay?” Do you need help?” Or, “May I talk with you for a moment?
- Wait for them to reply, and if the bully tells you to get lost, you could say, “Excuse me, I am talking with this person.” And then turn your attention back to the victim and repeat your question.
- Ask them to step away and once you have put some space between you, ask if they are okay. What can you do to help?”
3. Get involved in social issues, shining a light on injustices in your community. Participate in events such as gay pride parades, Black Lives Matter events and Take Back the Night marches. Helping young adult see that there are other people in their community that support these issues will build their confidence in standing up for someone.
4. Set the expectation that they should help out if they see someone being bullied or at risk of being harmed. My friend, Rachel recently sent her son off to college with these words of wisdom; “If you see someone is at risk of being harmed or bullied, we want you to do the right thing and stand up for them. Don’t walk away and pretend you didn’t see it.”
5. Manage your own fears of raising an ally. As parents, we must support our children to learn to take some risks, to let their conscience be their guide. From the first time we watch them get on the school bus with the big kids, to helping them move into their first apartment or dorm room, we have our own worries about what might happen. With a healthy perspective we don’t lay those worries on our young adult, but instead, bolster them with confidence, reassuring them that they can do anything they set their mind to. Raising an ally, following the previous steps, will heighten our own fears, but it shouldn’t keep us from taking the next step.
We live in a world divided by hate groups, people choosing sides, turning their backs on each other. But there are also plenty of calls to action, you can stand up for what you believe in, march, protest and write letters…
The time to do so is now.