I placed the mouse’s fidgeting body into the isoflurane tank. It went limp after thirty seconds from the anesthesia, and with mechanical precision, I transported it onto the surgical table, steadying its head with metal clamps and bolts. Staring at the motionless body, I was suddenly reminded of an old memory, and my present reality flashed to a scene of the past.
My six-year-old self skipped across the streets of Chengdu, China. Old men in loose sweatpants and white tank tops argued over the mahjong table, fanning themselves in the sweltering heat. Lanterns dangled over the facades of buzzing restaurants while moths darted across the scene, socializing with the lights and people.
One particular moth caught my eye. She was as white as the moon in a clear night sky. Eyeing her with fascination, my curiosity swelled, and before I even realized it, I had pinched her wings together. White dust from her scales became black upon my touch. My heart sank when I realized what I had done.
As my chubby hands cradled the moth’s motionless body, I began to cry. Even back then, I knew that harming an innocent creature was unquestionably wrong.
Hiss. The isoflurane valve was leaking, and the sound jerked me back to reality. The mouse was still unconscious, its chest rising up and down as its lungs swelled and contracted. It was a living, breathing animal like the moth had been. So why had I felt such shame in killing the moth, but experienced no such emotion while experimenting on the mouse? I had always known that it was wrong to kill or harm, yet here I was, about to drill a hole into a mouse’s skull, and strangely, I felt justified in my actions. Hopefully, my work with the mouse at the lab would benefit Parkinson’s patients, but were the means to attain such results inherently moral?
I peeled off my surgical gloves. Two weeks later, the mouse died.
I realized then that ethics was far more complicated than I had ever perceived. Ethical conduct was one of society’s most basic tenets, yet even after the mouse’s death, I still struggled to determine whether my own actions were moral or not. This thoroughly troubled me, and I was compelled to reach deeper into my moral uncertainty.
While my journey through ethical discovery began with the mouse, my experiences in Lincoln Douglas debate have ultimately shaped this journey to what it has become today. In Lincoln Douglas, we debate the moral implications of our actions, and throughout my debate experience, many of my opponents have asked me to explain how society deems actions moral or immoral. Before, such a question seemed simple, and I would answer by explaining that all rational citizens have the same concept of morality. It was only after I had personally experienced moral uncertainty in real life during my time at the lab that I realized just how complex the question really was.
Since then, I’ve debated opponents across the nation, catching a glimpse of the many diverse interpretations regarding ethics in our world. Ultimately, I’ve come to realize just how subjective morality can be; after all, the whole basis of why we debate stems from this subjectivity. Now, as captain of the Lincoln Douglas debate team, I still don’t have the perfect answer to how society deems actions moral or immoral, and I still don’t know if I’m always making the most ethical decisions. But my moral uncertainty urges me to recognize and reflect beyond preconceived notions of right and wrong. My time at the lab and in debate made me realize that I may never completely end my journey towards ethical certainty, but this realization has only encouraged me to dig deeper into the moral implications of my own actions, appreciating both sides of an ethics debate and analyzing the merits of alternative perspectives in today’s ambiguous world.