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Confound Them with Kindness

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

This trope occurs when a character acts with politeness not out of true well-meaning but a desire to confuse, disorient, or lull the enemy into a false sense of security.

Generally speaking, people don't expect kindness and generosity from their enemies (unless it's a Friendly Enemy or Affably Evil situation), or from someone they legitimately wronged. So when a character who has legitimately been hurt by someone else is forgiving, polite, or otherwise polite to someone they should, by all rights, be furiously angry with—well, it's suspicious.

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.

Sub-Trope of Unexpected Kindness. Compare Paranoia Gambit. Contrast Friendly Enemy.


Anime & Manga

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: In the manga adaptation, Shinji refuses to punch Touji back for the decking he got earlier, saying that he preferred Touji to owe him one. Touji is flummoxed.
  • Gabriel Dropout: When Satania forgets her umbrella and a downpour starts up, Raphiel kindly offers to share hers. What follows is Satania as a paranoid wreck, certain that every puddle and corner hides Raphiel's latest cruel prank. Raphiel isn't planning anything this time, but she finds Satania's paranoia over her uncharacteristic niceness extremely amusing.

Comic Books

  • Archie Comics: There's a story where Betty starts off despairing over the utter lack of courtesy she witnesses at a supermarket. As a consequence, 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 (e.g. poking fun at Archie's clumsiness, Dilton's nerdiness, or flirting with Midge) and instead casually greets the people he usually picks on. When Betty hears the gang chatting about his unusual behavior at Pop Tate's, she's triumphant.

Fan Works

  • Guilt of Innocence (Naruto): Inverted. Sasuke confounds his friends with hostility so they won't question his sudden Face–Heel Turn. It also serves for convincing Orochimaru, his enemy, of the same. This way, nobody suspects that he's gone to Oto on an undercover mission to spy on Orochimaru for Konoha.
  • the high road (Miraculous Ladybug): Marinette's opening is giving Lila a gorgeous handmade jacket as an offering of goodwill. Despite Lila's suspicions, there is nothing tainted or sabotaged about the jacket at all. In reality, Marinette's plan is much subtler than that. It works, persuading Lila that Marinette has decided to embrace her friendship, and thus blinding her to the larger plot.
  • More Than Enemies (Naruto): Kakashi thinks this was the fake Yugao's plan when she infiltrated Konoha's ANBU corps — befriending him and lowering his guard so he wouldn't suspect her of being a spy. He feels simmering rage and utter confusion at how his close friend, the first he'd allowed himself to have after his teammate's tragic demise, betrayed the village so easily. The reality proves to be a subversion, though, because the whole affair is accidental on the impostor's part. For her, it's a much-needed pause on her hectic life.

Films — Live-Action

  • Bagdad Cafe: Brenda is at first puzzled by and suspicious of Jasmin's need to improve her surroundings, to the point she's outraged to find her office clean and organized.
  • Heathers: After thwarting her boyfriend JD's Evil Plan, an ash-covered but relieved Veronica tiredly saunters back to Westerburg High. She encounters Heather Duke there and proceeds to pick Heather Chandler's red scrunchie (a symbol of power) from her, kiss her on the cheek, and cheerfully announce that "Heather, my love, there's a new Sheriff in the town". Heather Duke can only stare confusedly after Veronica, not even realizing the soot stain on her face.


  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The King and the Duke 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 planned to duck out as soon as they got every last drop of money. Their greed causes Huck Finn to stop them from selling everything, which nearly gets him lynched.
  • Discworld: In the 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.
  • White Night: Harry Dresden goes to visit a Health Club, owned by 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 gets 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.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: Given as advice from Mags to Lena in the Foundation trilogy. 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.
  • The Riftwar Cycle: In Rise of a Merchant Prince, Roo has hired his father to drive his wagon of wine to Krondor, but their relationship has always been stormy due to Dad being an abusive drunk. After a full-throated argument about how much to load the wagon, Roo admits that Dad is right and that putting another barrel in will break an axle. Dad's immediately taken aback and has to take a couple of seconds to come up with a response, and the argument dies out.
  • In Lewis Carroll 's Sylvie and Bruno, the narrator first meets Bruno when Bruno is tearing up Sylvie's garden, because Sylvie wouldn't let Bruno go play without lessons first. The narrator convinces Bruno to instead help him weed the garden and plant violets. It ends with all three crying tears of happiness. (In the preface, Carroll says this was adapted from an earlier story.)
  • Twig: Lacey does this to Sylvester, who is unwilling to accept it, seeing it as hypocritical on her part.

Live-Action TV

  • 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 a bemused American soldier wondering "Just what have they got to be singing about?"
  • The Big Bang Theory:
    • Sheldon uses this to wind up and ultimately get back at Leonard in the episode "The Itchy Brain Simulation" '. Not only does his calm demeanor eventually drive Leonard crazy (with the help of his itchy sweater), but 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. Mostly.
  • Law & Order: UK: This trope causes many suspects to underestimate Matt. It doesn't help that he is a charmer, looks like an angel, and has a ready smile for everyone.
  • Scrubs: In the 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.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: One of the Rules of Acquisition as stated by Quark — "Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies."

Mythology & Religion

  • The Bible: Proverbs 25:21, 22 says "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you." A common interpretation of this passage is that kindness is the best revenge, because it makes your enemy uncomfortable without you having to do anything immoral.

Video Games

  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery: Jerkass Merula's so used to being scorned by you and everyone else that being helpful or kind to her leaves her flabbergasted.
    • You get a very overwhelmed and confused thank you if you vote for her in Rita Skeeter's popularity contest. If anyone knows Rita though, this ultimately backfires on her.
    • Charlie Weasley's go-to method for dealing with her insults is kindness and compassion rather than responding in kind. To the Player Character's amazement, this completely throws Merula's balance off and stops her tirade in its tracks.
    • In a twist, she does this to the Player in Year 7. She's being oddly nice, offering advice on wandless magic after their duel. If the Player says that Rowan helps them focus, Merula even tells them that "Khanna would be pleased".

Visual Novels

  • Double Homework: The protagonist has this choice after Dennis berates the class for not pouncing on the protagonist’s newly revealed video game addiction. The protagonist gives an admission of wrongdoing and a statement of what he has learned, and then he can choose to finish his monologue with “Dennis is right.” This last statement infuriates Dennis into screaming and bolting from the classroom.

Web Novels

  • Brig Scarlet Flamingo: When Amelia comes to Evil Uncle Simon in her “Anne Jones” disguise, Simon welcomes her heartily, agrees to hire her as a kitchen help, and even berates his cook for overtaxing her. Amelia is dumbfounded and realises that "disarming politeness" isn't a metaphor. However, Albertina soon quietly explains to her that Simon is not someone whose path one should cross.


  • The Order of the Stick: Seeing O.O.C. Is Serious Business, Belkar Bitterleaf uses this trope as yet another way he will screw with people's minds. Especially because kindness greatly contrasts with his usual psychopathic fare.
    • It's Played for Laughs in "Horse Sense" to troll Roy:
      Belkar: Are you feeling OK? I'm really worried about you.
    • In "Probably About an '8'", the below comment sends Celia and Haley running away screaming:
      Belkar: I think they've worked out a good plan to end this pointless conflict without any more lives lost, and I support it fully. Let's stop the violence. [big grin]
    • However, this is played straight in a rather grim fashion when he's reporting to the rest of the party that Malack has turned Durkon into a vampire, and is still in at least some form of shock over Durkon's Heroic Sacrifice. When an outraged Roy is about to kill him out of denial-induced fury, Belkar isn't terrified or outraged like he normally would be in this type of situation, but more bitterly resigned and infuriated that Roy isn't listening to him.
      Roy: I shouldn't wait for some prophecy. I should just finish you off myself before one of your stupid antics really do get one of us killed!
      Belkar: How could this possibly be a joke?! Where's the punchline?! I know you're the Straight Man around here, so telling jokes isn't really your area of expertise. But trust me, there's nothing funny about it.
    • Played in a relatively straight (and exceptionally awesome) fashion in "Payback" when he finally uses one of his Ranger skills — Wild Empathy — to effectively turn the tide of battle almost singlehandedly:
      Roy: OK, now, I know we're doomed. Belkar is acting like a ranger.
    • After Roy finally realizes that Vampire Durkon was Evil All Along, Belkar starts to give him more serious and useful advice than his usual sociopathic remarks, such as noting how this issue could've been avoided 0.
    • In Strip #1164, instead of his former mindless stabbing in spite of obstacles in his way, Belkar tells the Exarch vampire how Durkon broke free, and encourages him to do the same. That's right, Belkar's graduated to a crude form of psychological warfare.
    • Right near the end of Utterly Dwarfed, he stays up through most of the night with Minrah to listen to Elan recap the plot so as to make sure that they're all up to speed and can best prepare for moving forward. Here, Belkar is going out of his way to make sure he won't be acting as The Load for the Order by keeping himself up to date with what's going on.
    • Near the very beginning of the final arc, Belkar goes out of his way to check in with Minrah after talking with Roy so he can see what spells/buffs she can provide to him and the rest of the Order in the Final Battle. This has Belkar being genuinely helpful and looking out for someone else on his team without any outside prompting at all.
    • There are multiple cases during the Order's fight with Serini Toormuck in the final story arc. First, after Haley tackles the old halfling to the ground and disarms her, Belkar actually tries to talk Serini down by noting that he's armed and she isn't, when a younger Belkar would've likely stabbed her without question. He then tries to be diplomatic two more times during the fight and resultant discussion, first when Haley and Serini are in the middle of a Mexican Standoff, and second when he snaps and aggressively convinces her to stand down and work with the Order and Sapphire Guard (though granted, the incredibly cynical logic — backed up by Haley — he uses to convince her is very much in Belkar's typical wheelhouse).
  • Skin Deep: Ike Sanford's mother Lynn is toweringly racist and narcissistic, to the point of telling Ike that he should break up with Rhonda and find a more suitable girlfriend while the latter was right there. Rhonda handles this by watching the argument in silence, then sending Lynn off with a cheery handshake and a comment about how nice it was to meet her and how sure she is that they will become fast friends... then waiting until she and Ike are out of earshot to start cackling about how much her friendliness had creeped Lynn out.
    Rhonda: I forced her to touch me. I could practically smell her revulsion.


  • NFL Quarterbacks On Facebook: In the 2014 Week 3 convo, Russell Wilson appears to genuinely congratulate Peyton Manning on a good game. Having already dealt with a similar situation after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, with Russell Wilson's hidden message, Peyton once again believes that Wilson is doing it again, and becomes paranoid to the point where he insults himself, to the amusement of the other QB's.

Western Animation

  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: One 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.
  • The Simpsons: In "Black Widower", as Homer points out, Bob should really be harboring some kind of anger toward Bart after the kid got him sent to prison. His claim to be over any hard feelings is one the family, sans Bart, is far too quick to swallow.
  • Winx Club: Inverted in "Date with Disaster". After kidnapping Stella, Darcy disguises herself as her. She then infiltrates Alfea (the fairy school Stella attends) and looks for Solaria's ring-scepter. When she doesn't find it, Darcy angrily and forcefully demands it from Stella's friends. Although already puzzled over their friend's previous behavior, this is what ticks them off something's not quite right.

Real Life

  • A technique suggested for customer service workers dealing with a rude/angry/belligerent client is to be unfailingly nice to them. Besides the fact that it's really hard to get fired for being nice to a customer, it's said that this will hopefully calm them down. Alternately, the customer is looking for a fight and isn't getting one, which will just make them even angrier, at which point they could slip up and do something that will get them kicked out. Either way, you'll get someone who will cool off, or you'll have fun watching them squirm.