Weaving a Peace?

PEACEWEAVING – Shamanistic insights into mediating the transformation of power, by Ben Hoffman, January 2013 – a review for Peacehawks, by Neil Patton

Peaceweaving is not your typical book on mediation. And Ben Hoffman is not your typical mediator. Hoffman has mediated a wide range of conflicts. From commercial agreements to prison hostage situations to disputes between violent African Warlords, his career has taken him from posh boardrooms to the naked risks of undisclosed jungle encampments.

Hoffman provides a thorough overview of the classic and de rigeur tools and tactics of the mediation trade, but his unique addition to the discipline is where he seeks to elevate it to a level on par with Maslowian self-actualization. Peaceweaving is an impressive and an intensely personal marrying of two concepts that just don’t normally roll off the tongue in any natural sequence: mediation and shamanism. Yes, shamanism. Not your typical mediation book. Not your typical mediator.

Hoffman’s is a very personal narrative of his journey through a vast mediation career which parallels his own evolution into “Shaman cum Mediator”. Yes, a shaman as mediator. Seems a bit far out there, but it is authentic, and it does have value for the profession.

For most practitioners in the conflict resolution field this might seem a bit of a reach, even implausible. For the hard core realists, this will be seen as pure flakiness, naivety wrapped in new age crystals and prayer flags. He speaks freely of his role as a mediator to eliminate negative energies and to move the conflicted parties’ relationships towards one of “power with” the other party and away from “power over” the other party.

Hoffman is aspirational, unbelievably aspirational. But this is an approach that seeks to be transformational, not just adding a new tactical process to the conflict resolution field. Hoffman’s career has led him to great challenges. This book is not so much about labour disputes and trade deals. Hoffman seeks to bring a new way of thinking to the most violent and protracted disputes of our times, and the ones just around the corner. This is a man who has looked straight into the eyes of African war lords who were responsible for mass killings, abducting children, and child soldiers, and he didn’t blink (though he does admit to suffering from intense internal anxiety from time-to-time).

What will be comforting to traditionalists and realists who dare to read deeply enough into Hoffman’s approach is that he understands that power is at the core of all conflict, and that failure to understand this is a critical error for any mediator at any level. It is all about power, but for Hoffman it is also about transforming how the parties relate to and use their power. Hoffman’s view is that the greatest challenge is to transform the parties and their relationship with their power and the power dynamics in the conflict. This is where he seeks to transform the art of mediation. In this regard Hoffman’s understanding of the challenges in mediation is spot on. He gets it: it is all about power and the parties’ own beliefs about their relative power. He is no naïf in this regard.

Ultimately, Hoffman asks: what is my role as mediator? For him it can be as ambitious as seeking to alter and transform the core values of the parties in conflict. Pretty aspirational stuff (US foreign policy has been known to try the same). In Hoffman’s view not all mediators will answer this question the same. Most will not likely answer like Hoffman. After all, he seeks to weave peace in the great violent conflicts of our times. The challenge of a commercial dispute does not raise the same transformational goal for him, nor should it. That’s about commerce, not peace. Hoffman is dealing in human lives, human dignity, and transforming parties upward from years and decades of violence.

His proposal that mediators elevate their role to that of a shaman is indeed daring, bold, and even unthinkable. But that’s what true visionaries and innovators do. A man on the moon in 1940? Unthinkable. The Berlin wall coming down in 1970? Unthinkable. Film clips and photos sent from mobile phone to mobile phone in 1980? Unthinkable. Mediator as Shaman? …unthinkable…?


Neil Patton is the co-founder and proprietor of Pre-think Inc. (see Neil has worked in negotiations for over 20 years. He has been a chief negotiator, strategist, coach, and trainer. His practice covers a variety of negotiations (collective bargaining, procurement, sales/marketing, commercial contracts) and sectors (utilities, telecoms, health care, education, mining, military, social services, retail, land development).
Ben Hoffman co-founded the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation in 1992 (see CIIAN is dedicated to the prevention and resolution of destructive conflict and to building sustainable peace at local, national, and international levels. Ben is the author of several important books on the subjects of negotiation and mediation. Ben has been, if not the official Peacehawks shaman, certainly our guru for as long as we’ve known him – and each other.

Media Strategy in Peace Processes

- by Ingrid Lehmann


Many diplomats and others involved in the mediation of international conflicts tend to be reluctant to publicize details of their work and may prefer to stay entirely out of the media’s limelight. While this approach has its merits during some negotiations, particularly in the early stages, in today’s 24/7 information environment nothing stays confidential for long. It only is a matter of time before information leaks, sometimes at the initiative of the parties themselves. Increasingly, mediators find that an active media strategy becomes an essential element of their work. Such a public-information strategy will aim to build public support for the peace process, shape the public image of the international negotiator and avoid negative fallout from uncontrolled and misleading public exposure.

In 21st-century conflicts, there are not only professional reporters covering a conflict or emerging crisis, but countless interested observers. Some may be citizens ‘bearing witness’, who can create a ‘story’ through a short message, photo or video posted on the internet. Such news items can be picked up by the traditional media and may rapidly take on a life of their own. (1) For mediators it thus becomes vital to monitor relevant information channels and attempt to manage the news flow about their work in a proactive way. Seeking the ‘information high ground’, as in defining and enunciating the basic issues in the negotiations and avoiding unnecessary and contentious details, ought to become one of the goals of all active mediators.

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stones in Brazil



Introduction and Background

The end of the Cold War did not, as we then so fondly hoped, usher in an era of peace. Although interstate wars may seem to have become relatively rare, intra-state conflict has become nearly constant and largely intractable. Armed force alone is of little value in resolving these lower-level but deadly conflicts – and intrastate wars have since the early Nineties been characterized by sickening casualty tolls.[ii] Alternate means of management and resolution of conflicts by non-violent methods have therefore been widely sought. These have, in some cases, offered real hope for the mitigation and even the prevention of conflict.

A resultant interest in the tools of mediation and negotiation continues to grow. The entire field which is generally referred to as alternate dispute resolution seems to present an attractive soft power tool box for the restoration and maintenance of peace. It has become an essential measure for containing, preventing and (hopefully) resolving conflict – non violently.

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Panel 3 of a Triptych for Peacehawks, by Jamie Arbuckle


On 6 November, the Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with support from UN, Tanzanian and South African forces, defeated the rebel group M23. On 5 December, Nelson Mandela died.  In one month, then, we have been confronted with the worst and the best of sub-Saharan Africa.  Which is the true picture? Which represents the future of Africa? Are conflicts to be peacefully resolved, which we might call the Nelson Mandela Future Model, or are conflicts to be endlessly and brutally protracted, which we might call the Central African Future Model?  Is there hope, or do we face merely a grim preparation for more of the same, in Africa south of the Sahara?

Is the Congo still at the heart of darkness, or is it the birthplace of the first great international human rights movement of the 20th Century?[1]

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Trackless Diplomacy – At Play in the Fields of the Lord’s Resistance Army

… the peacemaker must ‘wage’ peace.
– Ben Hoffmann
Peace Guerilla – unarmed and in harm’s way, my obsession with ending violence
By Ben Hoffmann, Ph.D., The Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation, Ottawa, 2009 206 pp., $12.96 (Cdn)
A review for Peacehawks by Jamie Arbuckle


This book is the story of Ben Hoffman’s efforts to end a nineteen-year old war between Sudan and Uganda. His chief instrument in this was the Nairobi Agreement, which had been mediated by former President Jimmy Carter in December, 1999. Ben, working on behalf of the Carter Center (, was to oversee the implementation of the Agreement. To do so, he would have to end the guerilla war being waged by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army against the Government of Uganda, from safe areas within and with the support of Sudan. Kony’s LRA was an especially vile band, kidnapping children for “warriors” and “wives”. Kony himself, as Ben makes graphically clear, was mad, bad and dangerous to know. And get to know him Ben did, with all that entailed. If you take nothing else from this reading, you will empathize with the courage and the self-reliance required for this sort of intervention.
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Managing Public Information in a Mediation Process

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Issue Areas
Conflict Management and Resolution
Mediation and Facilitation
Post-Conflict Activities
Center for Mediation and Conflict Resolution

February 2009 Book by Ingrid A. Lehmann

Those who mediate international conflicts must communicate publicly with a wide variety of audiences, from governments and rebel forces to local and international media, NGOs and IGOs, divided communities and diasporas.

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