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 be 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.

    Live Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.