Part 3, or the third penalty, is good and evil: "In a spiritual life everything is morally charged; nothing is neutral. Choosing between good and evil is a daily effort, but taking responsibility for your choices makes you fully alive. … When we intensify our moral awareness, everything becomes a big deal."
On one level, I have a lot of skepticism regarding this. "Good" and "evil" are both evaluations. They are terms of relativity and judgment, vague and indistinct. What makes something good? What makes it evil? A few things are clear, but most – the vast majority – are situational. The same behavior causes harm in one circumstance, healing or help in another. For instance, killing somebody in one case is pure murder, and harms the individual and his family. In another, it saves someone's life and prevents harm. The real question, is what is the reason or motive for the action? What needs are being met or unmet, and to whom do those needs belong? And is there a different way to act, which will meet the needs of everyone involved.
Too often, the concept of good and evil leads to an abdication of responsibility, not a taking of it.
On another level, the idea that the meaning of life is found in spirituality, that choices are morally charged, and that taking responsibility for those choices is vital in a well-lived and honorable life – that resonates. And the more aware we are of the implications of our choices, even the most minor ones, the better we are equipped both to make choices that serve life, and to take responsibility for our failures. We are also better equipped to deal with the nuances that arise, and to choose the most honorable, and least harmful option when we are faced with situations that cause harm no matter which way we go.
For instance, when I chose to transition, it meant betraying a marriage of 16 years, and it meant taking my sons' father out of their life. It was the hardest choice I ever made, because I could see so clearly the people I was hurting by doing it, and they were the people I loved most in the world. Yet I could also see that choosing not to would hurt them even worse – in fact, that it was hurting them day by day. Kristin suffered my depression and dishonesty. I could not connect with my children very well – I was not emotionally available to them. And I was so damn close to suicide – how much worse that would have hurt them! Making that choice, my boys have two moms who love them and are fully available. I set an example of courage and integrity, to replace my former example of deception and depression. The price was large, and continues to be large, and there are plenty of people willing to condemn my choice from the comfort of their own moral armchairs. That's okay. They know not of what they speak. I met the needs of my family as best as I was able.
So I agree with the meaning behind Gatto's words, but not with his language. I think it's a lot more useful to think in terms of needs and feelings, than in terms of good and evil. Not only does it offer more flexibility when it comes to choosing strategies to meet needs, it also is a better path to embracing the responsibility, beauty, and pathos of life.