From Dust of Dreams (Book 9 of The Malazan Book of the Fallen), by Steven Erikson.
“Cultures tend to invite the dominance of one over the other, as a means by which an individual succeeds and advances, or conversely, fails and falls. A culture dominated by attackers – and one in which the qualities of attacking are admired, often overtly encouraged – tends to breed people with a thick skin, which nonetheless still serves to protect a most brittle self. Thus the wounds bleed but stay well hidden beneath the surface. Cultures favouring the defender promote thin skin and quickness to take offence – its own kind of aggression, I am sure you see. The culture of attackers seeks submission and demands evidence of that submission as proof of superiority over the subdued. The culture of defenders seeks compliance through conformity, punishing dissenters and so gaining the smug superiority of enforcing silence, and from silence, complicity.”
“The key, I think, is to hold true to your own aesthetics, that which you value, and yield to no one the power to become the arbiter of your tastes. You must also learn to devise strategies for fending off both attackers and defenders. Exploit aggression, but only in self-defence, the kind of self-defence that announces to all the implacability of your armour, your self-assurance, and affirms the sanctity of your self-esteem. Attack when you must, but not in arrogance. Defend when your values are challenged, but never with the wild fire of anger. Against attackers, your surest defence is cold iron. Against defenders, often the best tactic is to sheathe your weapon and refuse the game. Reserve contempt for those who have truly earned it, but see the contempt you permit yourself to feel not as a weapon, but as armour against their assaults. Finally, be ready to disarm with a smile, even as you cut deep with words.”
“…In effect, you are saying: Be careful how close you tread. You cannot hurt me, but if I am pushed hard enough, I will wound you. In some things you must never yield, but these things are not eternally changeless or explicitly inflexible, rather, they are yours to decide upon, yours to reshape if you deem it prudent. They are immune to the pressures of others, but not indifferent to their arguments. Weigh and gauge at all times, and decide for yourself value and worth. But when you sense that a line has been crossed by the other person, when you sense that what is under attack is, in fact, your self-esteem, then gird yourself and stand firm.”