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It is believed that buttons have been around as a practical accoutrement and fashion statement since prehistoric times. Not always used solely as a closure device, the value of a button or pin depended on the material used in their manufacture, indicating levels of wealth and prestige. As a handmade crafted item, buttons were so prestigious that a button guild was formed in France in 1250 and their use restricted by law. Throughout history, buttons have been used for a variety of purposes including hollowed-out smuggler buttons and, with the inauguration of George Washington in 1789, political sentiments.


As the Industrial Revolution took hold in the 1800s, buttons became more accessible and entered the common vernacular as well. Button metaphors abound such as “on the button”, “cute as a button” or “buttonhole” while descriptions of persons with intellect, or lack thereof are described as “having all their buttons” or derisively as “a button short.”


Physical buttons have withstood the onslaught of zippers and Velcro and even expanded to the virtual world of computers. The word has also remained in our vocabulary as a metaphor for mental status. To push someone’s buttons is recognized as a statement of psychological dexterity, usually in a negative sense. Provocation to elicit a strong reaction through a known weakness or desire is a relatively common tactic. Even those who are aware of its use are often helpless to defend against its power without substantial mental restraint.


Our personal “buttons” are ingrained and include a wide variety of biases: mental, tactile, sensual, visual, hereditary, educational, family and social. These are so embedded in our psychological profile that we may not even recognize their existence, opting to explain them as a result of provable facts and demonstrable logic. This power is recognized in the Italian term “stanze dei bottoni”, roughly translated as a war room or control room.


Our current political climate, locally and beyond, is often a result of those who understand shared buttons. Negative concerns of fear and anxiety coupled with group dynamics can be a powerful force and override morality and common sense. In a turbulent era of dissent and conflict, our buttons become extremely sensitive. With this sensitivity, comes the danger of excessive use that overwhelms the message and rational thought. Just as bodily attacks can render unconsciousness and detachment, so can extreme button-pushing.


At the last Fremont City Council meeting, a trio of large groups were heard, expressing their sentiments – employee benefits, the proposed Navigation Center and vaping. This is a clear and positive democratic right and responsibility of the electorate. However, along with thoughtful and persuasive arguments are “me too” proponents who can show their support through their presence without adding dozens of similar oral statements that begin to dull the message. By the time council heard many dozens of comments, often repeating the same message, hours passed and the attention span of councilmembers and observers alike waned. This may not be the most advantageous method to present an argument.


As a solution to allow adequate representation and alert responsiveness, Fremont may want to consider using the fourth Tuesday or alternate day of the week (Wednesday?) as an option for sessions dedicated to a single sensitive subject. Although workshops are used for this purpose, they are typically scheduled prior to a council meeting, eliminating some from attending due to work or home schedules. This also lengthens meeting time and tires councilmembers who may have worked a full day prior to the sessions. Exhaustion lowers resistance to button-pushing but can simultaneously enhance erratic impulses. Although we have all learned to push buttons, incautious use may lead to unplanned results.