The Shadows of Tradition: When Jokes Turn Toxic in the Halls of Privilege

Abang Edwin SA
3 min readFeb 21, 2024
Photo by Jerry Zhang on Unsplash

The whispers began in hushed tones, then exploded across social media: a group of students from a prestigious private school, children of celebrities no less, stood accused of bullying. But the story went deeper. This wasn’t a single incident, but a chilling echo of a “tradition” passed down like a dark inheritance — seniors targeting juniors, year after year.

It’s a grim reality, and one that begs the question: how does a harmless joke morph into a toxic ritual, leaving its victims feeling ostracized and afraid? The answer, like the hallways of any school, is complex and multifaceted.

Imagine a group of teenagers, navigating the treacherous terrain of social hierarchies. Seniors, perched atop the pyramid, wield a certain power, and sometimes, that power manifests in the form of “harmless” teasing. But jokes, like landmines, can detonate unexpectedly, leaving craters of hurt in their wake.

The impact, not the intent, matters most. A joke that lands on someone’s insecurities, their appearance, their beliefs — it becomes a weapon, disguised as humor. And when it’s repeated, tolerated, even encouraged, it weaves itself into the fabric of the school culture, a chilling “tradition” passed down like a poisoned chalice.

But the darkness doesn’t reside solely in the perpetrators. The silence of bystanders, the fear of speaking up, becomes complicity. It’s a chilling truth: unchecked bullying thrives in the shadows, emboldened by the absence of opposition.

So, what breaks the cycle? What disrupts the legacy of pain?

It starts with empathy. Stepping into the shoes of the bullied, understanding the sting of exclusion, the fear of isolation. It’s about fostering open communication, creating safe spaces where students can speak their truth without fear of reprisal.

Schools play a crucial role. Strong anti-bullying policies with clear consequences are essential. But policies alone are not enough. We need to cultivate a culture of respect, of inclusivity, where differences are celebrated, not mocked.

Social-emotional learning programs can equip students with the tools to navigate conflict constructively, to challenge harmful stereotypes, and to build empathy.

And finally, let’s not forget the root causes. Bullies often carry their own burdens, unresolved issues that manifest in harmful ways. Addressing these underlying issues, providing support and guidance, can be the key to breaking the cycle from within.

The story of this “tradition” is a stark reminder that privilege doesn’t shield anyone from the pain of bullying. But it’s also a call to action. We can rewrite the narrative, dismantle the shadows, and build a future where schools are not battlegrounds, but communities of respect and support. Let’s break the cycle, together, and ensure that every hallway echoes with laughter, not the sting of hurtful jokes.

This is not just a story about one school, it’s a story about all of us. It’s about the responsibility we share to create safe spaces for our children, to challenge harmful norms, and to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. The shadows of tradition may be long, but the light of empathy and action can be brighter. Let’s choose to shine that light, together.

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Abang Edwin SA

Observer, Content Creator, Blogger (Obviously), Ghostwriter, Design Thinker, Trainer and also Lecturer for Product Design Dept at Podomoro University