How helpful is helpful enough?

I have a confession: I am a compulsive favor-doer. When someone asks for my help, I have a hard time saying “no”. Since there’s only so much Ben to go around, this gives me a tendency to over-commit.  I recognize this as a problem, but I can’t help myself.  It’s in my nature to be helpful.

So how helpful should I be?  My wife works at the county library, and last week a gentleman was checking out a book about Linux.  In the course of small talk it came up that he’s trying to dual-boot Ubuntu and Windows 7.  Angie mentioned that I run Linux at home and he wrote down his phone number and e-mail address for her to give to me.  I’m not mad at her for it, she hasn’t committed me to anything, but it got me wondering.

My initial reaction was to e-mail the guy and introduce myself.  After all, I’m a nice guy and that’s what I do.  Then I realized that this would probably make me his go-to support.  I don’t mind helping people, but an open-ended commitment isn’t exactly what I’m in the market for.  I already do a fair bit of free work for strangers.  I answer questions in the #fedora IRC room, on and on Serverfault.  Additionally, I write this blog, and I write documentation for the Fedora Project.  Maybe I don’t do as much as others, but I’m definitely contributing back to the community.

So maybe, I thought, I should set a rate and charge him for help.  That seems like too much effort, though. I’m not really interested in doing enough consulting/contract work to make it worth the trouble of filing the appropriate paperwork.  Besides, I have such a hard time asking for a reward for being nice.

Where does that leave me then?  I have no idea.  In the meantime, I’ve gone with the head-in-sand approach.  I’ll just pretend like this never happened.  Perhaps someday I’ll be able to solve this quandary.