In light of the recent alleged pedophilia scandal at Pennsylvania State University and, previously, within the Roman Catholic Church, just what is our responsibility to our fellow human beings?
Should we shy away from the truth or from doing what's right because we fear losing our jobs or bringing disgrace to the institutions we serve? Or are we simply unwilling to get involved?
All those reasons or excuses darted through the mind of Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez before he began a six-year relationship with a mentally ill homeless man who hadn't asked Lopez for anything.
Lopez met Nathaniel Anthony Ayers in 2005 when Ayers was playing a two-string violin in Los Angeles' skid row, where the homeless are as numerous as weeds in concrete and just as forgettable.
Ayers had been a gifted double bassist at The Juilliard School in New York before being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and later institutionalized. He had made his way from Cleveland to Los Angeles after his mother died in 2000.
The columns Lopez wrote about Ayers were the basis for his book, The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, which was adapted into the film The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.
At that first encounter, something about Ayers caught Lopez's attention, not to mention his ears, as he heard the beautiful music Ayers produced on the two-string violin, an instrument he had taught himself to play. (A violin was easier to carry and protect on the streets than a bass.)
I understand why Ayers caught Lopez's attention, but why did Lopez start a long-term relationship?
Lopez said he wasn't sure because he wasn't certain he was doing "Mr. Ayers," as he calls him, any good.
"I was writing with his permission," Lopez said, "but I didn't know if he knew what it meant to him if people stopped to say, 'I saw you in the paper.'"
But readers loved the stories about Ayers that Lopez wrote, he said.
Besides, "I knew what a smart, sweet, soulful, talented, likeable man he could be," Lopez said. "It was hard to step away from that. I see that side more than I saw the troubled side. I said I owe it to him now."
Ayers still has mood swings and outbursts, Lopez said. But he is much better now than he was when they met, and Ayers has been in an apartment for six years.
"He has about 15 instruments and he wants a piano for Christmas," he said.
Lopez will be the featured speaker at the Ball Homes Night of Hope, a fund-raiser to benefit the Hope Center. The evening also will feature a musical presentation by Everett McCorvey, director of opera at the University of Kentucky School of Music, and Lopez will sign copies of The Soloist and two other books he has written.
The focus of the evening will be Lopez discussing his relationship with Ayers and about the difficulties he faced in trying to get Ayers off the streets of Los Angeles.
It took time and patience and a lot of help from people and agencies that help people like Ayers every day.
I asked Lopez if he recommended that the rest of us follow his lead.
"No," he said. "These were special circumstances. But what you can do is find the agency in your communities that knows how to reach out and help in a constructive way."
Instead of handing change to someone on the streets, he said, save that money for a month and give it to an agency that can offer real help. Or volunteer once a week or once a month at that agency.
The Hope Center could be one of those agencies. It offers emergency shelter, food and clothing year-round to those with addiction problems, and helps those with mental health issues find and stay in homes. It provides addiction-recovery programs for men and women, employment assistance, transitional housing, social services and a free health clinic.
The center provides more than 25,000 meals, 10,000 nights of lodging, 700 health-care services and 3,000 articles of clothing each month.
Jennifer Ayers-Moore, Ayers' sister, has established the Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation that she hopes will make the public more aware of mental health issues. The non-profit aims to put music centers at mental health agencies throughout the country to help the mentally ill who are artistically gifted. Ayers-Moore manages Ayers' affairs as well.
I encourage you to help in some way.
"It will not be just you making a difference in their lives," Lopez said. "They will make a difference in your life."