Confound Them with Kindness

"Smile. It confuses people."
— Various t-shirts and bumper stickers

Bob just asked to borrow one of Alice's favorite records. Unfortunately, due to an accident involving a microwave, a packet of pop-rocks, and his Volvo, Bob brings back the album shattered into pieces. He returns to Alice, expecting towering rage, an Armor-Piercing Slap or Megaton Punch, or worse. Instead, Alice takes back the pieces, thanks him for returning the album, and offers him a stick of gum before he heads out. He leaves in a suspicious, bemused daze. Charlene, Alice's roommate, asks if Alice has forgiven Bob.

"No way," Alice says. "I just wanted to throw him off balance before I made him squirm!"

This trope represents instances in which a character acts with politeness, kindness, or courtesy toward an enemy - not out of true well-meaning, but out of a desire to confuse, disturb, disorient, or lull the enemy into a false sense of security.

On occasion, the character will make an Unsmile, Slasher Smile, or something similar while doing this - especially when the intention is to disturb or frighten the victim rather than just to confuse them.

Compare Paranoia Gambit.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • In the manga adaptation of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji refuses to punch Touji back for the decking he got earlier, saying that he preferred Touji to owe him one.

  • In an Archie Comics story where Betty starts off with despairing over the utter lack of courtesy she witnesses at a supermarket, she starts a project where she acts nothing less than utterly kind to the most disagreeable person she can think of: Reggie. After enduring some of Reggie's barbs, she simply laughs it off as him being witty; he then gets so confused that he doesn't commit his usual list of offenses and instead casually greets the people he usually picks on (e.g. poking fun at Archie's clumsiness, Dilton's nerdiness, nor flirting with Midge). When Betty hears the gang chatting about his unusual behavior at Pop Tate's, she's triumphant.

  • In The Dresden Files book White Night, Harry Dresden goes to visit a brothel Health Club owned by mobster Legitimate Businessman "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone, expecting to have to bully, intimidate, and possibly blast his way into the building to ask the questions he needs answered. Instead he's greeted warmly by the receptionist, told he possesses a luxurious and expensive membership package, and is politely ushered into the office of the character he'd hoped to speak with. When Marcone appears, he reveals that he's instructed all his businesses to treat Dresden like royalty, as a form of damage control.
    John Marcone: I am under no illusions about your fondness towards me or my businesses. In my judgment, my buildings are less likely to burn to the ground during one of your visits if you are disoriented from being treated like a sultan.
  • One interpretation of Proverbs 25:21, 22 is that kindness is the best revenge: it makes your enemy uncomfortable without your having to do anything immoral.
  • In the Discworld short story "The Sea and the Little Fishes", Granny Weatherwax's reaction to local know-it-all Mrs. Earwig trying to convince her not to participate in the annual Witch Trials is to... become nice. Unnervingly, uncharacteristically nice. Everyone becomes convinced she's secretly plotting something dreadful in revenge, which completely sours the mood of the Witch Trials... which was Granny's plan all along.
  • The King and the Duke in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn attempt to swindle a family out of their fortune by pretending to be relatives of the recently deceased Peter Wilks to gain the inheritance money. However, upon receiving the money, they proceed to donate it to Peter's daughters. Now having the family's complete trust, they trick the family once again by claiming to want to adopt the daughters and bring them back to England with them. The girls, trusting them, end up returning the money as a sign of good faith They then proceed to attempt to auction everything on the farm (including the property), because nobody would be living there with the girls in England. However, the King and Duke planed to duck out as soon as they got every last drop of money. The greed these two had caused Huck Finn to stop them from selling everything, which nearly got him lynched.
  • Given as advice from Mags to Lena in the Foundation trilogy in Heralds of Valdemar. The latter has recently discovered her oblivious father has sponsored a brilliant new student from the middle of nowhere who's now ostentatiously getting everything she's dedicated her studies and practice to earning. Mags suggests she should go out of her way to make friends with him, giving his reasoning: If the boy really is a malicious attention-seeker trying to use her father, he's still too inexperienced to deal with the girl he's bullying insistently being nice to him. If he's innocent and her nerves are just strung too high, then in his position he badly needs a friend and making friends will shut down anybody else using the situation to get under her skin. And Lena is the kind of person who'll feel a lot better about herself once she gets past agonizing over what he's really like and whether she's treating him fairly or not, and she'll be happier trying to be a friend than trying to play Alpha Bitch.

    Live Action TV 
  • A mild example in Band of Brothers. When American and German forces wind up entrenched just a scant few hundred yards away from each other and forced to wait out the night, some German troopers are faintly heard singing in the distance. Cue an bemused American soldier wondering "Just what have they got to be singing about?"
  • One of the Rules of Acquisition as stated by Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies."
  • In the Scrubs episode 'Their Story II', the Janitor doesn't get mad at Sunny when she is involved in a prank against him. While she is initially glad, she soon agonises over how the Janitor punishes the other perpetrators yet remains amiable to her. She believes it is because the Janitor considers her weak, but in the end he reveals that her agonising was the punishment in itself.
  • Sheldon uses this to wind up and ultimately get back at Leonard in the episode "The Itchy Brain Simulation" in The Big Bang Theory. Not only does his calm demeanor eventually drive Leonard crazy (with the help of his itchy sweater), it also freaks out/confuses his other friends.
    • At another point, after having annoyed the rest of the guys, Penny suggests that he invert this by making a polite and well-meaning apology while also being heavily sarcastic. It works like a charm. Ish.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Lily actually enforces this trope while mediating a fight between friends. She decides that the injured party may get revenge through either giving Barney a lot of slaps immediately (when he can anticipate them)...or much less slaps that can be 'used up' at the person's discretion. Marshall chooses the latter, and takes great joy in Barney's ensuing paranoia.

    Western Animation 
  • A Rocky and Bullwinkle story arc has the duo dealing with an infestation of man-eating plants called Pottsylvania Creepers. After every attempt to stop them fails, Bullwinkle says "We've tried everything except being nice to them!" And sure enough, that turns out to be the answer. The Creepers are so used to people being understandably hostile to them that they don't know how to react to kindness, so they wither and die from it.