The four steps of honesty

There is something magical about honesty. It is contagious and inspiring, just like self-confidence and harmony. A person who radiates honesty is a person we feel we can confide in—a person we can trust, who keeps his or her promises. We tend to feel confident about this person. But what does honesty really mean? Not stealing, of course, is being honest. But honesty is much more than that. To be honest is to be true—true to myself and true to others, honest with who I am, what I want, what I like as well as what I do not like or want.

Aspects of honesty:

  • Honesty in my thoughts, words, deeds, feelings towards ourselves and our surroundings.
  • Honesty towards myself and others about my needs, wishes, dreams, what I like and am interested in, what I do not like and am not interested in.
  • Honesty towards myself and others regarding what is aroused within me in different situations, in other words, that moment before I start editing, dismissing or replacing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings with more positive thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes, we may feel it is difficult to be honest, as we do not want to make someone else sad or disappointed. Being honest, however, does not mean that we tell every little detail about our innermost thoughts to anyone who might not be interested in listening. Nor does it mean pointing out all the faults and shortcomings of someone else. Honesty that is not accompanied by kindness and compassion is, instead, a sign that we lack integrity and respect for ourselves and others. This means that we do not really go all the way in our communication.

The four steps of honesty:

  1. Dishonest criminal – Lies a lot, pilfers, steals, is imprisoned, etc.
  2. Mostly honest – “White” lies, exaggerates, unreliable, changes at the last second.
  3. Honesty based on fear – Politically correct honesty, afraid of what others might think.
  4. Naturally honest – Comes from within, from the heart, constant contact with his or her moral compass.

So how do we know where we are on the ladder of honesty? A simple guiding principle is to, in any given situation in our daily life, notice what is aroused within us and notice how we act on what is aroused within us. What emotions surface? Fear, anger, joy? What thoughts pop up? Disaster thoughts, curiosity? How do our bodies react? Do we get a stomach ache or maybe a tingling sensation in our stomach?

My view is that honesty at level four is a scarce commodity in today’s society where most of us are at level two and three. We may not even be aware that level four exists. By trying to be as honest as possible, you inspire other people around you to be more honest as well. The easiest way to climb the ladder of honesty is to be curious about your reactions and behavior in relation to honesty, and decide what you want to keep and what you want to change.

Does honesty have anything to do with breathing:

As we improve our breathing, we come into better and better contact with our inner self and our moral compass. Slow, low and small breathing in and out through the nose, where the exhalation is a little longer than the inhalation, takes us from the sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) response to the parasympathetic (relaxation/recovery/digestion) response which increases the activity of the vagus nerve that binds together heart, brain and stomach.

If we are mostly in the sympathetic response, our development will be characterized by a focus on survival, while when we are in the parasympathetic response, our development is focused on growing as human beings. When we, with the help of conscious breathing, slow down the pace in our brain, it gives us increased ability to see patterns and connections and gain new insights about honesty and our moral compass.

My journey from dishonest criminal to naturally honest

Step 1 – Dishonest criminal (Age 10 – 20)

When I was growing up, I had a very hard time distinguishing between right and wrong. I first got caught for shoplifting when I was ten, which was in the late 1970s. A bunch of guys and I had gathered at the sports field for soccer practice, but when the coach did not show up, I suggested that we cycle to the store and pilfer some sweets. My little brother Chrille, wise and prudent as he was, did not want to, but one of the other guys joined me. When we got home, my brother told my mother, Karin what I had done. There was a lot of commotion and the school even got involved. I denied the allegation at first, but after a couple of days of walking around in agony with a large knot in my stomach, I finally confessed to my mother, which was a huge relief.  I remember that my teacher, Viola, then 63 years old and deeply religious, was very upset and gave me sharp admonitions and said, “It starts with a pin and ends with a silver bowl.”

Although this incident caused my criminal path to come to a temporary halt, my moral inner compass had not changed significantly. Slowly but surely, I began to fall back to previous patterns. When I went to high school, I used to steal things like hairspray for a classmate who was both short of money and overconsuming hairspray. When I was 18, I pilfered a hair dryer to give to my sister Cia as a birthday present. I was caught and got a daily fine. The event changed me for a while, but it was still not enough for my moral compass to change permanently.

I justified my actions by telling myself that the people who owned the shops I pilfered from were still so rich that it was only right that they share their riches with me. At the same time, things are seldom only black or white, and in my case, I also had another, more generous side. After all, I did not steal from the poor. On the contrary, when I was with my family in the United States as a 19-year-old, I encountered beggars for the first time in my life. I felt great compassion and gave them some of my pocket money. However, I got a little confused when I realized that I could not give to all the beggars because there was no end to them.

When I was 20 years old, I was employed by an all-in-one company that performed various services for other companies, such as cleaning, transportation, demolition, and assembly. I worked on assembling shelves at a storehouse that Ericsson was building. In the beginning, the storehouse was empty, but as the shelves came up, the storehouse began to fill with products. Eventually, the temptation became too great, and one day I smuggled a small telephone exchange home with me, not because I had any use for it whatsoever, but because it looked cool and was technically advanced. One of my work colleagues told the boss, and naturally, I was fired immediately.

Step 2 – Mostly Honest (Age 20 – 29)

Because I was fired, my criminal path was curtailed, and for a number of years I was mostly honest. The boundary was to tell some “white lies” here and there or to withhold information, not be entirely truthful and sometimes exaggerate, but I also exhibited infidelity and had relationships with married women. During this time I became very interested in positive thinking and the power of thought, which in retrospect, I can see often meant that I was dishonest towards myself and what I deep down thought and felt. As long as you think positively, it will work out, I thought. But no, that is not really how life works.

Step 3 – Honest but out of fear (Age 29 -49)

As the years went by after the incident when I was fired, and even though I thought it had left its mark and I was indeed honest now, I felt somewhere inside me that there had to be another level of honesty. When I was 29 years old, I therefore, made a New Year’s resolution to my bonus daughter Emily. I was convinced that I was doing it for her sake, to help her find her moral compass completely so that she would not run the risk of slipping into the same dishonest tracks as I. But as with much else in life, it is primarily for our own sake that we do something—something that many who have trained themselves to become breathing Instructors with me confirm. They sign up for the course to gain knowledge about breathing that they can share with their clients. But during the journey, they discover that they are primarily taking the course for their own sake, as they, themselves, need to improve their own breathing.

So I discovered pretty quickly that I was not very honest and that the New Year’s resolution was not for anyone other than me. However, at the time, I took the New Year’s resolution very seriously, and it was the start of a cool journey. I took it so far that if someone asked a question about something I had said or done, even though no one had seen it, I had to answer sincerely and honestly. It did not matter if the probability that someone would ask was less than one in a million. Regardless, I would be honest and force myself to be accountable for my actions. This often meant that I thought several steps forward and refrained from saying or doing things that in the long run could lead in a direction I did not want to be responsible for.

The New Year’s resolution was very hard the first few months, partly because of the realization that I was not as honest as I had thought and partly because of the internal conflicts and negotiations with myself about whether or not I should do or say various things.

Over time, I began communicating in a different, much more honest way. I got rid of copied DVD movies and stopped illegally downloading programs to my computer, and slowly but surely those around me became aware that I had changed. My reputation that had haunted me since I was little, that I always cheated when we played Monopoly or card games, competed, combined open-air walking and quiz competitions, and that I didn’t keep my promises, and so on, slowly began to change. As things began to fall into place in my life, the people around me began to trust me more and more.

Step 4 – Naturally honest from the heart (Age 49+)

For many years, the honesty that I established with my New Year’s resolution was always present. But slowly, slowly I began to go back to old patterns and slip a little on the truth, for example, ignoring paying parking fees which I justified by the fact that it is exciting to “live on the edge,” or postponing paying for a restaurant visit or some other minor fee for my company. Of course, it was time to attract a new teacher into my life, “the saucepan man,” which happened in the autumn of 2018. Once every year, I go to Upplands Väsby Shopping Center to collect a signature from my colleague, Cecilia, who is a board member of the Breathing Fund. That autumn, I had already visited her and received the signature of the other board member, Bill, so that I could bring the annual report to England. Of course, I forgot to bring the documents to England, so I had to print new ones on location while I was there.

Thus, when I came home from England I had Bill’s signature but was missing Cecilia’s which again took me to Upplands Väsby Shopping Center. Once there, I met a man in the parking lot, who said he was from Switzerland and on his way to Arlanda to fly home. He had exhibited at the fair and had a couple of saucepan and knife sets left and asked if I wanted to buy them as he could not bring them on the plane. Even though some small alarm bell rang somewhere deep inside me, one of my first thoughts was, Perfect, I can let the company pay for this and give these to my soon fully-fledged youngsters as Christmas presents. After some arguing and haggling, I paid 4,500 Swedish crowns, which I got from the ATM through my company card, for two knife sets and one saucepan set. When he had received the money, he disappeared with a tire howl faster than a salary. The business card was of course a scam, along with the phone number, the email address and the website. So I never received a receipt but had to book it as a private withdrawal. Unfortunately, the quality of the products was not impressive either, which, after all, was not entirely unexpected.

I realized that I had been deceived. When I went through the feelings of being pissed at myself for being so stupid and gullible and pissed at the dodger for being so dishonest, I came to accept the incident, and then I could laugh at it and also feel sorry for the dodger, who probably did not feel that good deep down about his choice of career. I finally become curious about whether there was anything that the incident had to tell me. And it had! The next morning I woke up to realize that my New Year’s resolution 20 years earlier had been based on fear. I had indeed been very honest, but one reason for the honesty was that I was afraid of what others would think and believe if I was forced to answer for my actions.

The incident with the “the saucepan man” made me realize that there was another level of honesty, and that was what he wanted to show me—to be honest because I want to, because it is our natural state. So finally, I could look at the incident from a place of gratitude and see “the saucepan man” as a teacher who had helped me grow.

I received the final test not long ago, in May 2020. In January the same year, I had discovered that my bike had been stolen, and from the locked bike garage at work! I had left the bike in the garage for several weeks believing that it was safe to keep it there, but no! Fortunately, I got back 8,295 Swedish crowns from the insurance company, so the incident only cost me a fiver as my new bike cost 8,300 Swedish crowns. But one day, I saw an old outdated notice in the bicycle garage about marking your bicycle when the landlord would do a cleaning of the garage at the turn of the year.

It took a couple of days before I realized what had happened and that there was a possibility that my old bike had not been stolen after all. I contacted the janitor and sure enough, he had put away my bike when they cleaned the garage. What joy! Almost immediately, however, a dilemma arose. Now, I had two bikes, and I had also received a lot of money from the insurance company. One idea that quickly emerged was that the insurance company has so much money that it would not matter whether I contacted them or not. Exactly the same argument I used in my teens, and even younger, to justify to myself that it was okay to pilfer from rich business owners.

I asked my wise brother Chrille if he thought I should contact the insurance company and say that I had found the stolen bike I had received compensation for or just ignore it. He said that since I had started thinking about what I should do, it might still be best to contact the insurance company to get peace of mind.

I agreed, but at the same time objected that I’d had an insurance case the previous autumn I had never reported that would have also given me about 8,000 Swedish crowns, so I entertained the idea that maybe these two events could cancel each other out. This event is, admittedly, a side track but so improbable that I choose to tell about it. Enjoy!

One Sunday evening, I was shopping at Coop Supermarket. When I got to the parking lot, someone had stabbed a knife in my front tire. I tried to fix it by pumping repair paste into the tire using a compressor, which is the way to handle punctures nowadays as the cars no longer have spare tires. After ten minutes of fruitless attempts, I realized that it was not I who was doing something wrong with the repair paste or the compressor, but it was simply that the hole in the tire was too big. I could get my index finger in it, so there was no pressure in the tire. What then? Well, a guy walked by and said he could help me as he owned a workshop 200 meters away. I bought a tire from him for 800 Swedish crowns, which he put on the rim, and then he also balanced the tire. Admittedly, the tire size was not completely correct, so I would have had to buy a new tire later, but I still thought it was the best option as I wouldn’t have to have the car parked at the supermarket, retrieve it from the supermarket the next day, find a workshop nearby with the right tire size, and wait while they fixed it.

A few days later, I bought a new tire for the price of 1,500 Swedish crowns. Then, I went to Bilia to buy a new can of repair paste so that I could repair tires again if I were to get another puncture. As the jar of repair paste remained on the compressor, the guy at Bilia said that there was a chance that I would have to buy a new compressor as well, for 2,000 Swedish crowns, as the sticky paste might have dried and got stuck. I sat down at Bilia’s customer reception area, waiting for my turn while trying to unscrew the paste can from the compressor so that I might be able to avoid having to buy a new compressor. But there was still pressure left I the can, and when I unscrewed it, it exploded right in my face.

The reception staff looked like 50 teenage scouts had had a masturbation competition where the yellow, sticky paste ended up everywhere: on walls, floors, chairs and me. It must have looked really comical—ha-ha—except the Bilia guy of course came out and muttered that I should not have done that. My jacket, sweater and trousers were all destroyed, as well as two IKEA armchairs that I had to replace from my own pocket. In total, the whole lot—tires, chairs, compressor, new winter jacket and so on—cost me about 8,000 Swedish crowns. But since I had an enormous amount to do throughout the autumn, and there were many different parties involved, with separate receipts here and there, I did not have the strength to complete the case with the insurance company.

Returning to the bicycle theft, when I went to bed in the evening after having gotten my “stolen” bike back I thought about whether I should ignore contacting the insurance company and settle these events against each other. However, it was never a serious consideration. Deep down, I knew that the only right thing to do was call the insurance company and tell them what had happened, which I did the next day. My contact person appreciated that I called and said that she wanted 5,000 Swedish crowns for the bike, otherwise they would come and pick it up. I managed to bargain it down to 4,000 Swedish crowns, and when I received the invoice I paid it immediately.

The rediscovered bike has now become a perfect birthday present for my son Eric, who has started studying. There is a certain symbolism in the whole thing, between the 18-year-old me who was caught preparing to give my sister stolen goods as a birthday present, to the current me who, this time, chose to pay my way and give my son an honestly bought bike on his 21st birthday. If, on the other hand, I had not paid, the bicycle would also have been stolen goods.

And to further tie things together, two days after I had written this article I was at my hairdresser Gun’s. Besides my brother, Gun was the only person to whom I had told the whole hilarious story, including my dilemma about whether or not to contact the insurance company. Among the first things she said was that she had thought a lot about honesty since we’d last met. She said that our conversation a month earlier had inspired her to act more honestly at an event on the golf course than she would have done otherwise.

After the visit to the hairdresser, I went back to the office, and shortly afterwards, a man called and said that he loved to use the Relaxator, but at the same time felt that he did not get peace of mind when he used it, as he, due to various circumstances, had not paid the invoice when he bought it several years earlier. Now, he wanted to do the right thing and pay, which he did. Thus, it felt like validation that my honesty journey had come full circle.

We all carry within us the seed to level four

We all carry within us the seed to reach level four—honesty from the heart—because it is natural. What I hope that what you take from this story is to avoid being quick to judge and condemn others. Let us instead inspire each other to more honesty. Even if we encounter people who do crazy things, they also carry within themselves the seed to be able to develop higher levels of honesty. For my part, this does not necessarily mean that I am at level four of honesty all the time but that I am more pleased with the realization that the level exists and that I strive to be there as often as possible.

We can look at many other activities from the same perspective as the four steps of honesty, such as in regards to movement:

  • Step 1 – Couch potato. Sedentary, minimal movement, comfortable.
  • Step 2 – Moves slightly, relatively inactive.
  • Step 3 – Exercises and moves a lot, but does so in fear of getting old, sick and so on. Often, does not listen to the body but runs over it again and again, resulting in injuries and illness. Life is a competition.
  • Step 4 – Move because it is natural. Feels good both during the activity itself as well as afterwards. Listens to the body and rarely gets sick or injured.

Even the coronavirus can be considered based on the four steps. One of the most remarkable things that has characterized the pandemic months is the great measure of consideration and solidarity, where very many people around the globe think about not infecting the old, the weak and the sick. The actions are, however, still largely at level three, because they have their basis in fear: fear of dying, fear of infecting others and so on. Level four means that we are in loyal, cooperative and considerate for what we want, because it is our natural state, in line with our innermost core.


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About the author

Anders Olsson is a lecturer, teacher and founder of the Conscious Breathing concept and the author of Conscious Breathing. After living most of his life with a ”hurricane of thoughts” bouncing back and forth in is head, Anders was fortunate enough to come across tools that have helped him relax and find his inner calm. The most powerful of these tools has undoubtedly been to improve his breathing habits, which made Anders decide to become the worlds most prominent expert in breathing. This is now more than 10 years ago and since then he has helped tens of thousands of people to a better health and improved quality of life.

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