My name is Mark Jackson and I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am married to my wife, Dawn, and we have four children and two grandchildren. Over the course of my life I have been the CEO for four companies and have owned my own business. For seventeen years I was fortunate enough to own a business that I had the opportunity to care for thirty-two state custody children. This was the most rewarding career I have ever had. Not only were we able to help make a difference in the children's lives, but they impacted us in a way that allowed us to grow and learn to love in ways we would have never thought possible.
I have not always been in a place to have an open mind, accept others, and love. Throughout my young adult life I lived in a fairly isolated environment that did not have a lot of exposure to other cultures, races, or diverse thinking. I was a part of organizations that carried the same thoughts and values that I held. Some of these organizations had specific thoughts about what was "right and wrong" for everyone. This created an atmosphere of judgement toward people who did not follow what they believed to be "right or wrong." I fell into this trap and I judged people who were different than me or different than what I had been taught was "acceptable." Then, I had four different events in my life that caused me to challenge the way I looked at myself, and the way I looked at others. In each of these events, I learned to be more openminded, accepting of others thoughts and opinions, and to expand my capacity to love.
Love without Labels Moment #1
I made mistakes in my life. Mistakes that the organizations who have specific thoughts about what is "right and wrong" would classify as major mistakes. Instead of being able to judge people against something I had never done, I was now in the same boat as the people I had been judging all of my life. This was a huge eye opener for me. I knew that deep down I was a good person, and that I was not happy with the mistakes I had made. I wanted to correct the mistakes and get my life back on track. I began to think that if I felt this way, it would make sense that the people I had been judging my whole life might feel this way too. I realized I had been too narrow minded.
The reality is, we all make mistakes. The mistakes take different forms, but we all make them. When I was making my mistakes, I didn't need someone judging me and telling me what I should or should not be doing. I already knew what I should or should not have been doing. I needed someone to try and understand what I was going through. Someone to walk with me and help me sort through what was going on inside of me. When we begin judging others for their mistakes and telling them what they should or should not be doing, we do not help them. To help them, we must try to understand what they are going through and help them sort through what is going on inside of them.
Love without Labels Moment #2
I had a friend once say, "we spend a great deal of our life trying to find our soul mate, and when we do, it tends to be someone that has some distinct differences from us. This is obviously to complete us. It allows our strengths to complement their weaknesses and their strengths to complement our weaknesses. However, instead of allowing that, 'completing' to take place, we spend the rest of our life trying to change them to be like us." This thought was what kickstarted the next love without labels in my life.
My wife, Dawn, and I fell into what I just described. Our strengths and weaknesses complemented each others. Although, when it came time for us to raise our kids, we certainly had different ideas on how that should be done. Instead of using our differences to complement each other and having an open mind to my wife's different ways, I thought my ways were right and her ways were wrong. This would often lead to confrontation and end with Dawn in tears. I would present "my way" so strongly that Dawn would just give up and avoid further confrontation. Fortunately for me, there was a voice in my head that kept coming back to loving Dawn, and that loving her did not equate with my way being right all the time. Instead of me trying to change her to think like I did, I started listening to her for our thoughts to complement each other.
Once this change took place, it was amazing what happened. We found that we could think very differently, but still work together to get to the desired result. We did not always agree with how something should be done, but we were able to work together to see which way would be best for each situation we dealt with. We then could support each other and work together for the desired result. No longer did one of us have to be "right" and the other "wrong," we could now both be right with just different ways of achieving the same goal.
This is another reality. Our individual way of thinking is not always right. Other's individual way of thinking is not always wrong. We need each other and our different ways of thinking to get to the best solution for the many different situations we deal with. If we only have people around us that think like we do, then we will only get thoughts that are similar to our own. If we have people around us that think differently than we do, then we get a more well-rounded thought process that covers a broad scope of potential solutions for each individual situation.
Love without Labels Moment #3
Watching my four children Cassy, Abby, Caleb, and Joshua grow into adulthood brought the realization that even though all four children were mine, they were all distinctly different. They all looked different, thought different, had different personalities and different views about life in general. Even though they grew up in the same house, they still had differing individual thoughts and views. This made me realize, that if this could happen in my house, that is was unrealistic to believe that all the people of the world could be expected to believe the same way.
We started adding more differing views into our family as my children began to get married. Cassy married Josh and had two children, Avery and Maddie. Abby married Eric and my son Joshua got engaged to Emma. There was a point during the process of expanding my family that I wanted to influence all of them to think the way that I thought and carry the same views that I carried. Once again, instead of using these differences as complements and having an open mind to my kid's different thoughts, I thought my ways were right and their ways were wrong. I even embarked on a journey of trying to understand some of the differing views by reading and studying some materials that supported their thoughts and ideas. Truth be told, I did this to try and use it to my advantage in order to try and change their minds after I had more knowledge of how to expose their position. What happened instead was a transformation of my thought process.
This is another reality. We usually look at another point of view in order to try and prove it wrong instead of looking at it to try and understand where the other view is coming from. Fortunately, during this process my mind was opened to actually looking at other views that did not fit with mine. I was able to see the other side of things. When this happened, instead of the conflict that usually took place when discussing different views, a productive discussion took the place of conflict. Instead of telling someone they were wrong, a two-way conversation could take place to understand the different viewpoints each of us had. What I found is that in the end, we were not very far apart in our way of thinking. Some of the details we used to get to the end were different, but in the end we were not far apart.
Through this process my kids taught me that they don't have to do things like I do them. My kids do many things different than I did them. There was a point where I tried to tell them they needed to do things like I did, but it quickly became clear that they were their own person. They had their own lives, their own thoughts, and their own ideas. They are all adults and if I wanted to have an adult relationship with them, then I would have to respect their lives, thoughts and ideas. In the end we are family, and if what we desire is a relationship, then the important part is to focus on understanding and respecting each other not judging and disrespecting each other.
Love without Labels Moment #4
The latest event that made me realize how important love without labels really is, took place with my last career. I owned a business where we took care of thirty-two state custody children. Fortunately, we were able to do this for seventeen years. Not only were we able to make a difference in the children's lives we came across, but they impacted us in a really special way. The stories of where these children came from and what they had been through is heart breaking. These children taught us to love in a way we never would have imagined possible. There was a point in my life where I believed that everyone could "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." Then, when I came across this population of children I realized they didn't have bootstraps to pull themselves up with. The trauma they had been through in their lives made some of their actions and reactions to life situations make no logical sense. There were no set guidelines to follow when helping them to navigate their trauma. Each day would bring new issues and new reactions.
The only steady things that we could do is be there for them, listen to them, try to understand them, and help show them how to make positive choices in their lives. One thing was certain, we were not going to effect change in these young people by "making" them do things. We could effect change in the young people by developing relationships with them so that they knew we had their best interest in mind. They needed to know that we were trying to understand what they were dealing with so we could help them sort through it and ultimately help them practice making positive choices that produced better outcomes for their lives. This did not happen overnight, it took a large amount of time and patience.
I no longer own this business. I decided to close after seventeen years of serving young people in need because of several factors. These factors are what set in motion the creation of Love without Labels. There were people who judged my business. These judgements were based on many things like cultural differences, racial differences, religious differences, or just someone wanting to impose their thoughts on how things should be done. It all came down to the same things, lack of an open mind, lack of acceptance of others, and lack of love.
When we embark on loving other people we must understand that love is not based on our time line or our thoughts about how we think things should happen. Loving is about focusing on others, understanding where they are coming from, and trying to understand what they need. We need more love in our world and hopefully Love without Labels can help to spread some of this love.