Education isn’t something that happens in the first part of your life while in school. Education occurs constantly. The problem is once we leave school it isn’t always clear how we get our education. Gracian addresses this point clearly and distinctly. The people we choose to surround ourselves with are the people who become our teachers in our lives.
xi Cultivate those who can teach you.
Let friendly intercourse be a school of knowledge, and culture be taught through conversation: thus you make your friends your teachers and mingle the pleasures of conversation with the advantages of instruction. Sensible persons thus enjoy alternating pleasures: they reap applause for what they say, and gain instruction from what they hear. We are always attracted to others by our own interest, but in this case it is of a higher kind. Wise men frequent the houses of great noblemen not because they are temples of vanity, but as theatres of good breeding. There be gentlemen who have the credit of worldly wisdom, because they are not only themselves oracles of all nobleness by their example and their behaviour, but those who surround them form a well-bred academy of worldly wisdom of the best and noblest kind.
There is a fine line here between using someone for their knowledge and cultivating someone for their knowledge. I think the word cultivate is quite intentional as it implies care and attention. We are not being asked to locate the smartest and brightest, befriend them, suck their lessons out of their brain and abandon them.
Additionally, Gracian clearly states, “Sensible persons thus enjoy alternating pleasures: they reap applause for what they say, and gain instruction from what they hear.” I interpret this to say that it is a two way street. Not only do we learn from others but we must be willing to teach as well. Sometimes the sharing of knowledge is difficult for people. It is one thing to ask how to do something and quite another to share how to do it.
Cultivate friendships that you can learn from and learn how to share your knowledge with others (to achieve their applause).