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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.

Compare Paranoia Gambit. Contrast Friendly Enemy.


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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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • This is Marinette's opening salvo in the high road, giving Lila a gorgeous hand-made jacket as an offering of goodwill. Despite Lila's suspicions, there is nothing tainted or sabotaged about the jacket at all; Marinette's plan is much more subtle than that. It works, persuading Lila that Marinette has decided to embrace her friendship, and thus blinding her to the larger plot.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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 putting another barrel in will break an axle. Dad's immediately taken aback and has to take a couple seconds to come up with a response, and the argument dies out.

    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.

    Visual Novels 
  • The protagonist of Double Homework 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.

  • In 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.

    Western Animation 

    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.