“Mom, what’s the oldest profession?” My 14-year-old daughter asked. The context was, quite innocently, about career paths, but I had to laugh. And then pause. How much of this conversation did I want to have with my teen?
“Prostitution,” I answered with a smile and a sigh. “At least that’s the saying.”
She frowned at me, not enjoying my amusement. “I’m serious,” she repeated. “What are some of the oldest jobs?”
It’s always healthy to be humbled by your child. Here she was, genuinely curious and I was making a joke out of her question. I apologized, then I did what any good parent does when they don’t know an answer: I googled it.
You know what surprised me when it so obviously shouldn’t have?
Storytelling is one of the oldest professions.
While historians and anthropologists don’t know the origins of human language, some best estimates peg modern human language developing about 200,000 years ago. And we also know from neuroscientists that our brains are hardwired for story—it’s a survival mechanism; we remember information better in the form of a narrative than we do facts and figures. (“Hey Joe, did you hear about our Caveman neighbor Bob who ate the red berries and died?” You’re going to remember not to eat those red berries better by hearing about Bob’s death than by memorizing a list of poisonous plants.)
So it’s not a great leap to believe that storytelling is as old as language itself. Oral storytelling was how our ancestors passed down information and tried to make sense of the world. Even today, while we live in a rational, scientific world, we still turn to myths and legends and stories to help us understand the world around us. Even better, we have an abundance of media: the written word in the form of novels, short stories and poems; theatre, movies, TV, video games, blogs and more.
And yet, we continue to dismiss stories as mere “entertainment.”
The industry in the U.S. alone is worth hundreds of billions of dollars—real jobs, real people, real economic impact—and we still think we’re goofing off if we binge-watch Netflix, sit down with a steamy romance or plow through a murder-mystery.
And if you write that steamy mystery or murderous romance, well, then, aren’t you just wasting your time? “Oh, it’s only a hobby,” or, “I write just for the fun of it.”
Sure, of course, write for the fun of it and enjoy your hobby, but what you’re doing is more than that. You are part of a long, rich line of storytellers, whose role is essential.
Books and stories are more than fluff—even the fluffiest of them—so let’s give the whole profession the prestige it’s due.
Storytelling is life.
And that was a much more satisfying answer to give my teen daughter than the original meaning of the old joke.
Meet Jen and get to know her story here.