The Punch Line is Just the Beginning

My buddies and I used to play a game we called “Punch Line.” The rules were simple: One person would tell the punch line to an old joke and the rest of the group would try to remember the parts of the joke leading up to the punch line. For guys, it was pretty easy. One word or one short phrase would conjure up memories of a story or anecdote that was shared in the past. It was male communication in its most basic form: short and sweet – and not too deep.

My wife and I share a memory of the day I came home from work and told her that a co-worker’s wife had given birth. That’s all I had to share: “Hey, Joe’s wife had a baby today. It’s a girl (I think).” That wasn’t enough intel for my wife. She hit me with a barrage of questions: What did the baby weigh? How long was the baby? What color hair did she have? Who did she look like? What is her name? How long was the mother in labor? Were there any complications? Were the mother and baby OK? Was this their first child? How long will they be in the hospital? Which hospital are they in? Are they registered for gifts anywhere? After several minutes of questions to which I had no reply I shouted “It’s a baby!” Wasn’t that all my wife needed to know? Didn’t she just need to know the punch line to figure out all of that other stuff? Apparently not. Apparently for her, the punch line was just the beginning.

I remember something my teacher in Pastoral Ministry told us about the differences in the way men and women communicate. She said: “Men communicate to report; women communicate for rapport.” She was right. And therein lies the problem of living your life by punch lines. We men often don’t go deep enough when communicating.

I am reading a very interesting book by Thomas Hart titled “What Does It Mean to Be a Man?” The book sheds light on some of the challenges we men share in relationships and how we can improve in those areas. The author gives an example of something I have observed many times while listening to men talk about their faith journey. Many times, men try to share their feelings by narrating an event or series of events in their life. Some of the stories are quire compelling but they don’t tell the whole story. What makes a story like this useful to other men is when the story teller shares his feelings (NOTE TO ALL MEN: Don’t stop reading here. There is more to learn. Hang tough, I’ll help you get through this.)

The stories of our lives are more than narration or listing highlights. Would you be interested in an autobiography that read like a resume, highlighting dates and accomplishments? No, you want to hear the story behind the story. You want to hear what the person was feeling, how they struggled, how they failed, how they recovered, what they learned, etc. Narration and “punch lines” aren’t enough for me to learn from someone’s experiences. I need to know what was happening to the person as they experienced the event. If I am to learn from your experiences, I need to understand you and your life better. Yes, I need to know your feelings, your fears, your failures. That’s the benefit of sharing our stories – so others can learn. The punch line is just the beginning.

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