What is an Educated Person?

By Peter Baskerville, Teacher & Edupreneur

I’m old enough to have met many people that I would classify as ‘truly educated’ across the intellectual, moral, and social domains. While some had significant academic qualifications … all sourced their education from broad, experiential and diverse fields and so had become masters in the art of living.

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure, their mind and their body, their education and their recreation, their  love and their religion. They hardly know which is which. They simply pursue their vision of excellence at whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing. To them, they are always doing both”  James A. Michener (U.S. novelist and short-story writer)

In this post I have attempted to answer specifically what I consider to be the ‘hallmarks of an educated person’, which may not necessarily align with the ‘hallmarks of a person with an education’. Now while each of us will have their our own views on what characteristics define an educated person, here are the ones I have observed and which sit well with me. I doubt a person exists with all these qualities developed to their fullest level, but I believe that they will display some and be probably working hard on the rest.

  • They are disarmingly humble and tolerant – A truly educated person is comfortable in their own skin. They have a clear understanding of their own abilities and are acutely aware of their weaknesses. They understand that humanity is a great collective that while diverse and different, share much in common. They know their place in the world and fully accept yours. Their emotional generosity allows them to put their own experience and prejudices  to one side and so open themselves to the perspectives of others that may be vastly different from their own. In the words of the Roman lyric poet Horace, they have “an ear fine-tuned to The Grecian Muses, and a mind from vulgar envy aloof”
  • They are insatiably curious about the world around them and its people. They can lose themselves completely in a task, a hobby, an engaging conversation or a book that has captured their imagination. Their curiosity is a life giving stream that they drink at often. They are never bored because for them there is always something to learn, to study or to observe. A time of solitude quickly becomes an opportunity to capture thoughts, to untangle an as yet unresolved philosophical problem or to revisit and add to an innovative idea. In short, an educated person is totally self-entertaining.
  • They read voraciously and are dedicated to lifelong learning. Education, for the truly educated person, is not something they achieved in the past, but it is rather a present and constant companion. An educated person is literate across a wide range of contemporary and classical genres and media.  In paraphrasing Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), truly educated people read to have conversations with the noblest people of the past, who as authors, reveal the best of their thoughts. But an educated person reads more than just printed text – they ‘read’ the messages from the world they encounter, be it a fascinating wander through a museum, watching athletic prowess on display, indulging the senses in a fine dining experience, being moved by a classical piece of music, marveling at the intricate craftsmanship of the trades or just looking up in awe at the ‘wondrous glory of the everlasting stars’.A truly educated person is finely attuned to the infinite wonders and talents that make up the human and the natural worlds and has learned to read all the messages and understands their lessons.
  • They are active listeners who engage with everyone.  An educated person has taught themselves to truly listen. Their curiosity and desire to learn makes them want to pay close attention to what others are trying to tell them, not just in their logic, content and argument but their emotions and experiences that underpin the telling. They want to empathize with others so that they can fully understand the why, not just the what, how and who. An educated person also knows how to talk and engage with others in meaningful communication, be it talking ‘with crowds and keep your virtue,Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch’. Neither economic, academic nor societal station stops the truly educated person from engaging with others because they see others as simply fellow travelers who like them are striving to navigate their own dreams, aspirations, failures and nightmares.  The educated person’s wide reading and experiences makes them great communicators with any group because they have a vast reservoir of stories that they can draw on to appeal to any demographic. A truly educated person can entertain friends.
  • They will surprise you with their breadth of knowledge, skill and expertise as well as their depth. They maintain an ethos of striving to remaining interesting, so they will seek out skills and experiences in disparate and diverse fields. There is plenty of fascinating aspects to their lives that they never openly share, leaving it for others to discover only by persistent ‘digging’. The truly educated person resists being classified and constrained within expected dimensions and takes great delight in surprising others who have tried to do so.
  • They are easily moved and as great problem solvers, they actively seek solutions to world issues, injustices and the rights and freedom of individuals. They have not lived immune from treachery and injustice in their own lives, but they have refused to let these experiences cause cynicism, anger, isolation and envy. In spite of life’s ‘muggings’, the truly educated person has chosen to maintain an emotional, outward and empathetic connection with the world and remains easily moved by the struggling plight, overcoming achievements and the determined journey of others.
  • They seek truth not just knowledge. Education for the truly educated person is not an end in itself, merely part of a structure and rigor that helps them discover the truth and so posses the greatest wealth … wisdom. For while knowledge makes a living, wisdom makes a life but wisdom will never be gained without a courageous commitment to always bow to truth’s demands once they have become enlightened. An educated person is always testing their accepted ‘truths’, always prepared to entertain new ideas that are contrary to their own, are grateful when shown the error of their ways and are always prepared to seek truth in spite of the ridicule and humiliation they may expose themselves to by others.

One overarching characteristic of truly educated people is that they see and understand all the interconnections between the many facets that define life and are able to make sense of the world and act effectively within it in creative and meaningful ways.